Tour to Neocene


103. Three fortunes in the selva



The basis of the chapter was written by Wovoka, a forum member
Translated by João Vitor Coutinho
Edited by Tim Morris

In the Neocene, the Amazonian selva regained its positions lost in the human epoch. Equatorial regions, favorable for the growth of evergreen rainforests, have again become a place of abundance of life. Many species of trees and shrubs, vines and herbaceous plants grow here, and this is one of the centers of species diversity of life. Abundant rainfall and a warm climate promote vigorous growth of vegetation, and woody plants form an extended canopy that captures almost all of the sunlight, and only a small part of it reaches the surface of the ground. Rivers cut through the dense forest canopy, and in these places the sunlight reaches the ground, allowing the growth of small plants – grasses and shrubs. Since the areas suitable for the growth of shrubs are relatively small, between plants the serious competition takes place for the opportunity to live in the most favorable places. In the eternal war between plants for a place under the sun, a variety of means are used. Some plants quickly overtake their neighbors in growth and shade them, others spread with the help of root shoots, and the third ones use growth inhibitors to eliminate competitors.
Some winners in the struggle for existence are visible at first sight. Extensive thickets of one shrub species stretched out on tree-free plots of land open to the sun. They have an interesting appearance: among the monotonous gray-green leaves of a rounded shape, flowers of very diverse shades develop: white, yellow, red, pink, orange and purple. Their coloration changes over time depending on the location of the inflorescences, their age and degree of maturity, so the varied coloring only partially gives the impression of some kind of species diversity. In fact, these thickets can sometimes be just a clone of only one plant that appeared in this area several years ago and achieved success in the struggle for existence. This plant species is polomiki lantana, the master of conquest of living space. Its thickets are single-species and continuous, stretching for tens of meters through the forest. The plant actively scours living space for itself and is very reluctant to leave the occupied territories. With the secretions of its roots, the plant kills the growth of competitors and even oppresses larger neighbors. Seedlings of trees next to the roots of polomiki lantana wither soon, and even in adult trees next to this shrub, a significant part of the roots appeared too close to the thickets die off. But the plant itself spreads actively, stretching its roots and branches in all directions. The branches lie flat on the ground and take root easily, thanks to which, over many years, a huge clone is formed from one plant, stretching for tens of meters.
Even herbivorous mammals cannot influence this plant with their activities, although the largest rodent species – barocavia – inhabits the tropical forests of South America in the Amazon and Hippolyte basins; it is a monstrous “guinea pig”, which is the ecological analogue of the hippos of the human era. In calm weather, even animals with a weak sense of smell notice a sharp and very recognizable smell spreading from the green parts of polomiki lantana. It is a signal: polomiki lantana is inedible for most of the forest inhabitants. All parts of the plant contain a huge amount of alkaloids, and this feature allows the plant to thrive. Large animals can, at best, nibble off the top of one shoot in order to get rid of helminths with the help of such a natural remedy. If any herbivorous mammal eats too much leaves, it is fraught with severe liver damage leading to death.
Some animals are repelled by lantana, while others, on the contrary, are attracted by it. Above the bushes, the air is ringing because of wingbeats of numerous creatures: thousands of flying creatures gather here to taste the sweet nectar. Despite the poisonousness of the roots and shoots of the plant, its nectar is harmless, and a variety of creatures – hummingbirds and pollinating insects – feed on it. Flowers on the same branch of a plant can have a different coloration. The reason of it is hidden in the peculiarities of plant physiology – a pollinated flower quickly fades and becomes unattractive to pollinators. At different stages of flowering, polomiki lantana flowers attract different pollinators – it guarantees more successful pollination.
After pollination, fruits arise not from every flower; many ovaries simply fall off and rot on the ground. Unripe berries are protected from eating – they are covered with bristly spines, which quickly fall off at the time of fruit ripening, and ripe berries attract a significant number of forest dwellers. Numerous forest birds, such as brightly colored parrots, feed on the dark purple berries of polomiki lantana. Their flocks regularly descend into the thickets from the forest canopy, and other forest dwellers find fruit-bearing polomiki bushes by the sharp calls of these birds, heard hundreds of meters away.
Ground-dwelling mammals often come to feast on the berries of this shrub, although they avoid eating its foliage and young shoots. But in the tropical forests of South America, there is one beast that feeds not only on berries, but also on flowers, leaves, and even lantana stems. Moreover, among herbivorous vertebrates, only this one is able to feed on the greens of this plant. For other herbivorous mammals and birds, this plant is extremely toxic, except for nectar and ripe berries. However, in nature, no one adaptation guarantees its owner the absolute protection.
Thickets of lantana shake and the crunch of branches, snorting and sniffing are heard – a large beast, the size of a small bear, roams among the plants. This is a creature of massive build, with short powerful paws, armed with thick claws. The back of the animal is covered not only with wool, but also with numerous thin quills that bristle if the animal hears a sharp sound or simply feels displeasure. Near the ground, the animal’s long tail slaps along the bush branches. Its tip is expanded and turned into a kind of “mace”, inside of which there are enlarged vertebrae, and the spikes on the skin over this “mace” are larger and thicker than on the body. From time to time, this animal sits down on its hind legs, leaning on its tail, raises its head and chews on the shoots. At this time, huge orange incisors are visible in the mouth of the beast – this is a rodent, but very large. Its incisors are strong enough to cut through the thick branches of a bush like a garden pruner. In itself, the large size of the rodent is not unusual: South America is the kingdom of caviomorph rodents, and a large number of specialized forms of rodents, often reaching enormous sizes, are present in local fauna. The diet of this animal is amazing: it includes shoots of polomiki lantana, and it consumes this food in large quantities. An animal that can feed on lantana shoots without harm to itself is a very large lantana-eating porcupine, or myriyutherium.
In its physique, the beast resembles a giant sloth of the prehistoric era, adjusted for size. It feeds sitting on the ground: it simply bends the branches of the bush and pulls them towards itself with hook-shaped claws. These claws represent a universal tool for this herbivore: they can be used to dig up roots and tubers, bend and break branches of bushes, and when the beast is attacked by a predator, they turn into a formidable weapon. The claws on the front paws of the animal are so large that the rodent is “club-footed”, leaning at the walking on the outer edge of the hand and bending its claws inward.
The physiology of this mammal is notable for its ability to neutralize the effects of the poison of polomiki lantana. When myriyutherium eats this plant, it receives huge portions of a strong poison. However, this does not harm it: the animal has managed to use this poison by depositing it in its own fat and muscles. Therefore, a predator who decides to eat myriyutherium can get fatal poisoning if it eats too much meat. But even from a small amount of meat and fat of this beast, many of the predators will feel very sick for several days. Only one predatory species is able to eat the meat of myriyutherium without harm to itself – it is the jaguarete, a local big cat. But even these predators prey on myrieutherium only when thy lack any choice of prey. Therefore, the life of myriyutherians in the South American selva proceeds relatively calmly. The only vital food resource of this species is polomiki lantana. It grows in the forest not on every step, but in places favorable for life of this plant, it grows in hundreds of bushes, attracting porcupines. In addition to it, porcupines eat many other types of plants, so in the absence of polomiki lantana, they will not remain hungry. However, only the poison of this plant gives them protection, so the beasts regularly visit the thickets known to them, improving their own chemical protection.
Unlike many other selva plants, polomiki lantana forms extended single-species thickets, where the shoots and seedlings of other plants feel uncomfortable and quickly die. But lantana itself prospers, giving a lot of suckers. In various places thickets of lantana move: this myriyutherium is not alone, and not far from it several more of its congeners feed. Despite the fact that they can see each other, these animals prefer to stay alone and do not interact with each other. Their way of life and means of protection allow them existing successfully outside the society of congeners, unlike primates, for example. This species does not form breeding pairs, and the mating ritual is reduced to a primitive display of strength and health by the male.
In one area of thickets, a myriyutherium female nibbles a bush of lantana. Her congeners prefer to stay away from her: this is an adult strong female with a cub, and she can easily attack any animal that she considers dangerous for her offspring – even a representative of her own species. Raising cubs is the only period of time in the life of myriyutherium when two congeners closely communicate and feed together.
The female calmly feeds in the thickets, but this calmness is only outward. When one adult male approached her inadvertently, the female stood up on her hind legs and growled warningly, stretching forward the claws of her front paws and baring her huge incisors. The cub has just been born and will need to spend a lot of time with its mother before it grows to a size where it can protect itself from enemies. Therefore, the parental instinct turns the myriyutherium female into a hot-tempered and rather aggressive creature.
The cub of this female was born just a couple of weeks ago. Unlike most rodents, which give birth to many blind and helpless cubs at once, New World caviomorph rodents have chosen the opposite strategy: they give birth to very few cubs (usually one or two), but their cubs are physically developed, sighted and covered with hair. At his birth, this myriyutherium cub, Tisquesusa*, looked the same way. At the age of a few hours, he already followed his mother, remembering her appearance, voice and smell. At the second day of his life, the first quills appeared in his fur, although he is not yet able to protect himself. Little Tisquesusa actively learns to find food on his own – he watches which plants his mother eats and smells the food in her mouth. He already knows how to dig roots and confidently recognizes some of the plants his mother feeds on. However, there is a lot of things in the world that he has yet to learn.

* In honor of one of the chiefs of the Chibcha Muisca Indians.

Tisquesusa’s mother feeds in the polomiki lantana thickets. Tisquesusa cannot yet bring himself to eat these shoots – they seem terribly bitter to him, although the smell of the plant is attractive to him. While his mother is sitting on her hind legs, leaning on her tail, the cub crept up to her stomach and began to suck milk. This food is much better than the bitter leaves of lantana – the cub’s body is not ready yet to accept and utilize large portions of plant poisons. With age, the physiology of the Tisquesusa’s body will be rebuilt, and the beast will devour the poisonous greens of polomiki lantana with the same pleasure as its mother.
Having bitten off another branch, the female sniffed – she caught the scent that was attractive to her. The eyesight of myriyutherium is not very sharp, so she cannot see in all details the source of the smell, although it is literally under her nose. Horned insects with elongated bodies about a centimeter in size with a blue-green sheen crawl along the lantana branch. The female stumbled upon a delicacy: amazing creatures – Amazonian treehoppers, or pokopoko – graze on lantana. These sap-sucking insects equipped with a long proboscis are quite different from many of their relatives – modestly colored small creatures that disguise themselves for survival. Pokopokos are relatively large insects compared to related species. Their coloration is bright – metallic green with a bluish tint and intense luster.
These colorful creatures suck sap from young lantana shoots, while exuding sweet honeydew, which attracts a number of animal species, including myriyutherians. Pokopokos cause noticeable damage to the shrub: where their colonies stay, the foliage of polomiki lantana shrivels and withers, and the flowers fall off without producing fruits. Pokopokos intensively suck plant sap, inhibiting the growth of shoots, and pass it through their small bodies. The excess sugar is regularly secreted by insects, and their sweet secretions adhere to the bark on the shoots and gleam in the sun with their smooth surface. Pokopokos belong to rare insects that can feed on polomiki lantana without harming themselves. Passing through themselves large amounts of plant sap, these insects accumulate a large amount of plant poisons, and their bright and catchy coloring warns a possible enemy that they are inedible. But this warning stops not all their enemies.
For the myriyutherians, pokopokos represent a real delicacy. Having found their colony, the myriyutherium female began to gnaw the leaves and stems right along with the isects keeping on them. With a soft rumbling, she called her young cub to eat this rare forest delicacy too. Tisquesusa does not want to eat lantana leaves, but willingly licks off the pokopoko colony from the shoots, sniffing and snorting with pleasure. The taste of the pokopoko’s secretions is somewhat unusual, but sweet, and the cub likes it. Under the watchful eyes of his mother, he learns another of many lessons – this time a pleasant one. When licking a branch, baby Tisquesusa remembers the appearance of pokopokos and the smell of their secretions. But he will not have an opportunity to regale himself for too long.
A black wasp is hovering in the air above the pair of myriyutheres, and its body is slightly gleaming in the sunlight. When it hovers in the air, it is noticeable that it is surrounded by a pink cloud – it has red spots at the tips of its wings, and in a flying insect they turn into a pink halo around its body. The wasp is not alone: in a minute another one appears next to it. The smell of the disturbed pokopoko treehoppers causes these insects to get together, and soon many wasps are flying over Tisquesusa and his mother. They are aggressive and prepare to teach the young myriyutherium another lesson – no treat is free.
The black wasps quickly swarm over the myriyutheres, which carelessly devour the pokopoko treehoppers and their sweet secretions. These massive porcupines, covered with quills and thick hair, look well protected from wasp stings, but they still have weak spots on their bodies, and wasps get to them sooner or later. The wasps hovering in front of the eyes of the female porcupine irritate her, and she waves her front paws away. Sudden movements anger the wasps, and they rush to attack. Many of them crawl in the fur of the rodent, trying to get to the skin, but some wasps sting the myriyutherium female in her eyes and nose, causing her to shake her head and growl in pain.
The cub received several stings at once in the first minutes of the attack. His wool is shorter and his skin is thinner, making it much easier for wasp stings to find a target. Feeling the pain from the wasp venom, Tisquesusa whimpered and ran away. However, he sees that his mother is fighting some kind of opponent, although he does not notice the enemy himself – Tisquesusa is still too small and inexperienced to associate the pain from the stings with the appearance of insects from which his mother fights off. But he feels the danger and tries to the best of his ability to scare the small enemies. Tisquesusa raised himself on all fours, arching his back, fluffing his hair and spreading his quills, but such a display can hardly frighten the many wasps attacking in a swarm. Despite the menacing posture and the waving of his short tail, Tisquesusa received several more stings and rushed into the thicket, whining piteously. His mother also retreated. Wasps have once again proved that they are able to rout an enemy many times bigger the size of the wasp. The myriyutherium female suffered greatly from the wasps: she had one eyelid swollen and her nose hurts a lot, suffered from several stings at once. Moreover, one wasp managed to sting her right in the nostril, and the myriyutherium female sneezes and sniffs, trying to get rid of the unpleasant burning sensation. She turned and left the polomiki lantana thickets, and Tisquesusa rushed after her.
The pokopoko colony is under reliable protection: a whole army of black tapiyucan wasps stands guard over their safety. These wasps, also known as farmer wasps, jealously protect the treehoppers from any enemies, including such large ones as myriyutherians. Workers of tapiyucan wasps are constantly on duty around the pokopoko colonies, and their stings force to retreat the spiders and predatory insects, that have decided to attack the slowly-moving pokopokos. The nest of the wasps themselves is built in a tree several meters above the ground, and their own larvae grow in safety.
Tapiyucan workers are one of the frequent visitors to polomiki lantana flowers. They are easy to recognize among other insects – the body of the tapiyucan worker wasp is black, smooth and shiny, and the red tips of the wings stand out brightly against this background. Worker wasps diligently harvest nectar to feed the relatives left in the nest and for the queens on which the reproduction of the colony depends. The tapiyucan colony has several fertile queens, and it guarantees the reproduction of the colony even after it is plundered by large enemies having the taste for insects and their larvae.
Tapiyucan workers are not only nectar collectors and warriors, but also skilled hunters. For their larvae, these wasps gather small insects, hunting, among other things, on lantana flowers. They chew their prey to the condition of minced meat, throwing out its stiff legs, parts of the shell and inedible wings. Pokopoko treehoppers, accumulating lantana poison in their tissues, are deadly poisonous to wasp larvae, so they do not become their prey. However, they work as living filters for the poisonous lantana sap, and their honeydew – sweet sugary secretions – is completely harmless and is one of the main components of the diet of adult tapiyucan wasps. Wasps regularly visit the pokopoko colonies, and workers armed with stings and ready to defend their wards are always present there. These sedentary sucking insects always have a lot of enemies – they are eaten by predatory insects, ticks and spiders, and microscopic fungi grow on sweet secretions and can easily infect the pokopokos. There are also parasitic fungi that grow in the tissues of these insects. Therefore, tapiyucan workers always have enough work to do in the pokopoko colonies: they kill and drive away the enemies of these insects, clean the pokopokos from dirt and fungus, and even treat them with their saliva as if they were their own larvae to protect their body coverings from the fungus. As a reward for protection and care, the wasps receive sweet honeydew from the treehoppers in an amount sufficient to feed the wasp colony.
The role of the tapiyucan in the life of pokopokos is not limited to caring for the insects only. The wasps also guard and cultivate the polomiki lantana plants, preventing the growth of other plants that the pokopokos cannot feed on and that could interfere with the growth of the polomiki lantana. Some plant species, which are fast growing and resistant to lantana root secretions, are still able to compete with it and even supplant it from suitable places for life, however, tapiyucan wasps regularly descend to the forest floor and crawl in lantana thickets. They find by smell and gnaw with their mandibles the seedlings and suckers of other plant species, making room for the unhindered settlement of the shrub. In addition, wasps find fallen overripe fruits of polomiki lantana on the ground. They are rich in sugar and also non-poisonous, therefore wasps willingly eat them. Small seeds of polomiki lantana can settle by sticking to the integument of insects that eat the berries. Wasps easily clean them off, but by this point they can fly far enough from the thickets, and there is a high probability that the seed of polomiki will germinate in a new place. In addition to wasps, lantana seeds are often carried by beetles, which like the taste of rotten berries, on their body covers. Thanks to the hard shell, they can afford to ignore the tapiyucan wasps crawling nearby and devour the berries, regardless of the interests of the wasps. Insects carry the seeds of polomiki lantana quite far from the thickets of the parental plant, but in the first months of life, the lantana seedling will have to fight for a place in the sun: a too weak and tender seedling grows from a small seed, which develops for a long time before it gets strong enough to compete on equal terms with other plants. And the care of tapiyucan wasps helps such seedlings to survive – but only where the thickets of lantana already exist and a nest of these wasps is arranged.
…The wasps successfully drove away the myriyutherium female with the cub from the thickets – the tactics of collective defense once again worked flawlessly. When the enemy was put to flight and the threat of the pokopoko colony was over, the worker wasps returned to peaceful labor. Some of the wasps returned to the nest, but many of them shot in every direction through the lantana thickets in search of surviving pokopoko colonies. Wasps perfectly remember the location of the colonies they patronize and quickly find them. Landing on lantana shoots, worker wasps crawl across the colony of pokopoko treehoppers, sniffing and feeling their pets with their antennae. Almost all treehopper colonies are safe and unharmed, except for one, which was found by the myriyutherium female. Before the wasps came to the defense of the colony, the porcupines managed to eat a lot of pokopokos, but some of the insects managed to survive. The porcupines also bit off several branches, and now part of the colony can be seen from the side. Pokopokos survived this catastrophe crawl uneasily along the branches, choosing new places to feed somewhere in the shade of the foliage, where they will not be noticed by predators. They move slowly – pokopoko has very short walking legs, with which it is more convenient to cling to a branch and stay still, although they can jump with the help of a strong rear pair of legs. Worker wasps crawl cautiously between alerted pokopokos, licking them and touching them with their antennae. The touch of the wasp antennae calms pokopokos, and they gradually spread along the branches of the lantana, choosing secluded places for feeding. And the worker wasps, while tending to the pokopokos, update their memory map of the location of their colonies. Within half an hour after repulsing the invasion of myriyutherium, the first pokopokos thrusted their proboscises into the vessels of polomiki lantana stalks and began to secrete sweet honeydew drops, responding to the touch of the antennas of the tapiyukan wasps. Order has been restored, and the life of the colony continues.
Mother leads Tisquesusa away from this dangerous place. She walks slowly along the edge of the thickets of polomiki lantana, and Tisquesusa barely keeps up with her with his short legs. Both animals experience severe pain from wasp venom – the stung places are swollen and respond with pain to every movement or touch. The adult female endures this pain in silence – she has encountered wasps and bees that live in the selva more than once. There are many species of stinging insects here, and every animal has to test their weapons sooner or later. For baby Tisquesusa, this is the first experience, and he reacts very sharply to painful sensations – he whines, sniffs and itches. From time to time the female stops, calls Tisquesusa to her and licks his stung muzzle. This is the only thing she can do for him: she cannot take away the pain of wasp venom, which should go away on its own.
The pain of wasp stings makes them concentrate on their own sensations for a while and forget about caution for a while. And the world around them almost immediately reminds them that it is dangerous to do so.
Not only myriyutheres and insects feed on polomiki berries – this delicacy attracts many eaters to poisonous thickets. Small birds usually feed in the lantana bushes, taking off when the clumsy myriyutherium is searching for fresh tasty shoots of the plant. From the forest canopy parrots, the famous forest gourmets, descend here. A frequent visitor of the thickets of polomiki lantana is the kurekure parrot – a noisy green bird with yellow flight feathers. These birds can be heard from afar – they constantly communicate with each other with loud hoarse voices. Many eaters of lantana berries are more secretive. Rodents and small possums scurry under the bushes; they also like these berries, especially overripe, fallen and fermented ones. Small doses of alcohol make small mammals a little less agile and cautious than usual, but a meeting with myriyutherium does not pose a danger to them – these porcupines do not prey on other animals. But larger creatures can also feed in the thickets, including those who will not refuse fresh meat in addition to berries.
An animal the size of a large bear appeared as if from nowhere. While the porcupines walked along the edge of the thickets, this one ate lantana berries, standing on all fours in the bushes, and the foliage completely hid him. He got too involved in the search and devouring of berries, so it did not immediately notice the approach of the porcupines. When a dry twig crunched under the paws of the myriyutherium female, he instantly returned to reality. Not trying to figure out who bothered him, the beast instantly rose to its hind legs and bared its teeth, ready to meet any enemy fully armed. Standing on his hind legs, he reaches almost two meters in height – this is an imposing and dangerous opponent for anyone who dares to attack him. He has a stocky, muscular body, a huge head, and clawed feet. Unlike the myriyutherium, he does not refuse to diversify his diet with the meat of small animals – large sharp canines grow in his jaws. However, now he was feasting on polomiki lantana berries, and the hair around his lips stick together from the sweet berry juice. This is macrokupara, a descendant of the small tree-climbing kinkajou raccoon of the human era. In the process of evolution, this beast reached the size of a bear and switched to a terrestrial way of life. It is an omnivorous animal, and the wealth of terrestrial megafauna in the selva of the Neocene epoch allows the macrokupara to diversify its diet with meat of varying degrees of freshness – it eats both fresh, still warm meat and carrion affected by decomposition with equal pleasure. In addition, he is quite capable of eating a baby myriyutherium, whose meat has not yet become too toxic. However, an adult myriyutherium is inedible for him, but young cubs still feeding on mothermilk, may appear a dainty for this predator.
The silent scene of the meeting between the two species of beasts lasted a matter of seconds: with a yelp of fear, Tisquesusa rushed away before his mother could stand between him and the macrokupara. He is too small, and the sudden appearance of such a huge beast very close to him greatly frightened him. Without any hesitation, macrokupara rushed after him – this beast is omnivorous, and his menu often depends on the ability to quickly navigate the environment and make decisions. Quickly assessing his chances and the distance between himself and the myriyutherium cub, he decided to try to get a tasty morsel for a rich side dish to go with the berries. And the female myriyutherium heard the call of the cub and rushed to his aid – the presence of the macrokupara does not frighten her.
Tisquesusa rushes through the forest, stumbling over the roots and hearing behind him the heavy steps of an unknown but terrible beast. The young porcupine has already begun to get tired, and steps behind him are heard closer and closer. He hears the breathing of two animals behind him – the loud and hoarse breath of the monster, and the quieter and more distant one of his mother. She rushes to help, but Tisquesusa’s strength leaves him, and the macrokupara is about to overtake the cub.
And at that moment, when the macrokupara almost caught up with the myriyutherium cub, the female made a dash forward with her last strength and grabbed the predator’s hind paw with her claws. The macrokupara’s claws tore at the wood litter just a few centimeters away from Tisquesusa, who whined plaintively. And his mother responded to his voice with a ferocious throaty growl. With her claws of her front paws out in front of her, her powerful incisors bared and her fur and quills standing up, she approached the macrokupara. Moaning in pain, the macrokupara turned its muzzle to the myriyutherium female. He tried to stand on his hind legs to appear bigger and scarier, but due to his weight an unbearable pain pierced his wounded paw, and he sank down on all four paws. Baring his teeth, he tries to keep his face to the myriyutherium female, barking every time she tries to take a step towards him. The two opponents mill about among the trees in a terrible dance, taking turns trying to scare and force each other to retreat. The macrokupara tries to turn the myriyutherium female to retreat with lunges with bared teeth and strikes with a clawed paw, however, in response, the female porcupine only exposes her sides to him; quills grow densely there, and the predator is forced to limit himself to only a display of strength, scratching and throwing the wood litter to the sides.
Scared Tisquesusa hid among the roots of a tree and watches the battle between his mother and an unfamiliar monster. He has already managed to associate the image of this animal with danger in his memory, and in the future he will be careful, sensing cues of its presence.
The myriyutherium female was the first to decide to interrupt this unnecessary duel. She dropped to all fours and swung her prickly mace-tail, intending to strike the predator in the muzzle or in the shoulder. The macrokupara managed to dodge this blow, stepping sideways in time – such a blow could sink many quills into his body, and quite possibly, an eye could be damaged. The predator does not want to tempt his fate, and the only thing he needs is to leave the battlefield in time. He is no longer going to frighten the myriyutherium female with sharp claws or teeth: his wounded paw hurts and bleeds badly. The myriyutherium female had managed to inflict a serious wound on him: the muscles on the hind leg of the macrokupara are partially torn apart by her claws. The predator realized that it was more expensive to mess with the female porcupine protecting her cub, and prudently retreated, giving the porcupine family an opportunity to unite happily.
The fight with the myriyutherium female was costly for the macrokupara – the beast was seriously injured, and now it is limping. An attempt to step on a wounded paw responds with acute pain, and the beast is forced to move actually on three legs. It lost the ability to move quickly for a long time, and now he’ll limp on his hind leg for the rest of his life, even if he’s lucky and the wound heals without infection. For a predator living solely by hunting, such a wound would mean a death sentence. However, the macrokupara is not a specialized predator, but an omnivore; moreover, it is not fussy. A significant part of his diet is plant foods, and meat goes to the mammal only if it manages to get it easily and quickly. Now, after being wounded, he will have to survive for a while, forgetting about fresh meat and eating plants, invertebrates and carrion. Omnivorousness will be his salvation.
Myriyutherians also have a very varied diet, in which polomiki lantana shoots are not the only, or even the main dish, but just a necessary addition to the rest of the food. While Tisquesusa is small, he does not like the taste of lantana shoots, and he prefers to eat other herbs, as well as starchy rhizomes and tubers of herbs. When the mother wanders through the forest in search of food, the little Tisquesusa tastes what she eats and imitates her movements, trying to get food on his own. He grows rapidly, and every day improves his skills in obtaining food. Someday he will be provided for by his mother, for the last time, and he will have to take care of his own food for the rest of his days.
The mother guides Tisquesusa around a certain territory, which she considers her own. From time to time, she tears the bark on tree trunks with her claws and urinates and defecates profusely nearby, trying to leave as much smell as possible near her mark. By such smell marks, others of her species will be able to determine her sex, age and physiological condition – this is a kind of message for relatives, not very informative, but quite understandable to any newcomer to the territory of this female. Tisquesusa also leaves its small marks next to the mother’s ones and his scent will also be recognized and taken into account.
Once, while wandering through the forest, Tisquesusa’s mother rumbled warningly for no apparent reason. Tisquesusa knows perfectly well what this signal means, so he ran up to his mother and took his place at her side. The voices of forest birds sound the same as before, but the female clearly feels the presence of another animal. After sniffing the ground and taking a few steps, she discovered the cause of her anxiety: the female found a carelessly dug-in hole in the forest litter, in which there is droppings that emanate a frightening smell. Smelling it, the female involuntarily bares her teeth and raises her quills: this is the smell of a predator, much more dangerous than the macrokupara – one of the few creatures that can purposefully hunt myriyutherians and kill them for food. Tisquesusa sees this behavior of his mother for the first time, therefore, he does not understand the reasons for her anxiety, however, he diligently copies her movements – he sniffs the droppings of an animal unknown to him so far, remembers its smell and diligently bristles his quills, which have already noticeably grown since his birth. With such quills as Tisquesusa has, he is no longer afraid of some small predators, although they are unlikely to stop a large animal.
Myriyutherians are large herbivorous mammals, representatives of the group of caviomorph rodents. Their close and distant relatives often reach a very solid weight of tens and hundreds of kilograms, and in some cases even up to some tons. However, these are herbivorous animals standing at one of the lower levels of the food pyramid of the ecosystem. In the South American selva of the Neocene epoch there are predators capable of preying on many of these herbivores, and the hunter can appear in any guise, sometimes even in the most unexpected one. In the process of settling the recovering tropical forests of the early Neocene, evolution seemed to be playing some kind of game of a planetary scale, shuffling the cards and handing them out in a bizarre way. As a result, newly formed ecological niches appeared filled by the creatures of the most improbable appearance.
Looking at some creatures, it is difficult to imagine them as predators with the sense organs that they have. However, one of the predators of the selva is able to get its own food, being almost completely blind. It has no legs and is too slow to chase its prey. It almost never leaves its hiding place. But on the other hand, it knows how to wait, but having got a chance, it does not miss it – it is very difficult to escape from its jaws.
Tisquesusa is searching for food with his mother. He has already grown up and does not suffer from a lack of appetite. Therefore, the mother shares food with him less and less often, although she does not refuse him in her support and protection. When she dug up a plant with starchy, nutritious tubers from the ground, she simply pushed Tisquesusa away without any sound, leaving him to search for food on his own. Having whimpered a little as a sign of displeasure, the juvenile moved a few steps away and found several more plants of the same kind. He began to dig out one of them, growing from the edge. After a few strokes of his claws, a succulent tuber appeared on the surface; Tisquesusa happily bit off almost half of it and began to chew.
The faint tremors of the ground under Tisquesusa’s feet were felt by the creature curled up under the forest floor. It has been patiently waiting for prey for the past couple of days, and now the long passive wait seems to be over. This hunter reaches a huge size – over three meters in length. It is actually blind, but accurately tracks the location of possible prey by ground vibration and smell. By indirect signs, the hunter can determine the size of the prey and decide whether to attack it. The soft footsteps of Tisquesusa tell the hunter that this is a relatively small creature and can be dealt with. The primitive brain gave the command, and the long smooth blue-violet body straightened, throwing forward a flat, hard head with strong jaws. The predator’s calculation turned out to be accurate, and the jaws seized Tisquesusa’s hind leg. The young myriyutherium squealed in pain, and a thick long body, glistening with wet skin, pulled him into the bushes, where this hunter made a hiding place for itself.
Tisquesusa was attacked by an unusual predator of the selva – a huge mboi-tata caecilian, one of the largest amphibians of Neocene. It is inferior in weight to the gluttonous swamper from the Siberian swamps, but it can exceed it in length. Like the gluttonous swamper, the mboi-tata is a predator. Its jaws close tightly, and Tisquesusa has almost no chance to escape, and the giant amphibian pulls him into its hole.
His mother reacted to Tisquesusa’s voice instantly. Groaning menacingly, she rushed to aid him, ready to attack any enemy. Feeling the ground shake under her feet, the caecilian hurried to protect itself. Its jaws loosened, and Tisquesusa, limping slightly in pain, ran away. The mother pushed him away from the dangerous animal and led him away, and the huge caecilian hurriedly backed into its shelter. Although it is a predator, it is quite vulnerable in itself, therefore, in the presence of large animals, it generally prefers not to appear on the surface of the ground.
The entrance to the mboi-tata shelter is a deep, almost vertical hole in which the animal is fixed with the rear end of its body. This is a relatively passive predator, which almost never leaves its hole and catches only those animals that appear nearby themselves and which can be dragged into the hole. At a depth of almost two meters, the hole turns into a pitcher-shaped extension, where the amphibian, completely hidden in the hole, is able to curl up. In such a hole, the female raises her offspring, and such a shelter can exist for several seasons in a row if it is not destroyed by a flood. Digging out such a hole is a difficult task for a ground-dwelling predator, if it decides to hunt this animal. And on the surface, this gigantic amphibian can only be accidentally taken by surprise. Besides, mboi-tata very carefully hides the signs of its presence. There are no other exits in its hole, and the amphibian maintains cleanliness in a special way. It’s able to delay emptying its intestines for several days in a row, and on the eve of the next rain, it simply sticks out the back end of its body and defecates, spraying a jet of its feces far to the side. The rain washes away traces of its presence, and the shelter of the animal remains clean inside. The secretiveness of the mboi-tata is partly a necessary measure: by nature, the animal is an amphibian, and its skin loses moisture easily. And inside the hole, the humidity level optimal for the integument of the animal is maintained by itself.
Tisquesusa was more frightened than hurt from the attack of the mboi-tata: his skin was only scratched by its teeth, there are several bruises, and blood oozes from small wounds from the teeth of the amphibian, appearing as stains on his coat. Most importantly, the muscles and tendons remained intact, so in just a few days he will fully recover. While the wounds are fresh, the cub whines in pain. Hearing his voice, his mother stopped, scooped Tisquesusa up to her with her front paws, and began to lick his wounds carefully. This is not only a necessary hygiene procedure, but also a gesture of strengthening the bond between mother and cub: by taking care of him, the mother gives him confidence that he can count on her help and support. The meeting with the huge amphibian is an extra reminder of the need to be careful if you live in the selva.
Meeting with a predator is a test for any living creature, but it can be avoided with a certain amount of caution, the sharpness of the senses, and a certain amount of luck. But there are tests that nature itself presents, and which no one can avoid.
In a tropical climate, there is no summer and winter, as in areas of temperate and cold climates. Instead, the tropical zone has wet and dry seasons. The concept of “dry season” in this case is arbitrary – at this time, a little less amount of the rain falls in the given area, and the rivers have time to gather rainwater and remove it into the ocean. During the wet season, so much rain falls on the selva that the rivers simply overflow their banks and flood vast expanses of the rainforest, turning the life of its inhabitants into one big test of resilience.
The first flood in the short life of Tisquesusa began quite ordinarily. It’s just that every next day the rain was heavier and longer than usual, and he had to hide from the jets of water from the sky under the body of his mother for longer, warming himself with her body heat. Wet wool creates an unpleasant sensation, therefore, after wandering in the rain in the early days of the wet season, Tisquesusa quickly got wet to the last single hair. To get rid of the touch of wool unpleasantly sticking to the body, he shakes himself, but this actually does not help. Therefore, pressing the quills to the body, he hides under his mother’s side and warms himself, although she has to somehow endure a touch of wet trembling cub at her side. Tisquesusa is too young, and such long rains are new to him. He just has no idea how much water can be around. On the contrary, his mother had gone through numerous floods and understands clearly, what test they will have to pass in the near future.
Due to heavy rains, the river overflows its banks and floods the forest, and its level rises every day. Herbaceous plants of the rainforest endure such a test with relative success – many of them are able to withstand flooding and grow for several weeks under water. Other plants are found only in places where the waters of the river do not reach, or keep as little as possible – for example, polomiki lantana is one of such plants, and this circumstance does not allow it to grow too actively in the forest. Unlike plants, terrestrial animals are able to move, and during floods they rush to higher ground, and even have to climb trees, waiting for the flood to end. In such havens, friends and foes often meet face to face.
During the flood, the myriyutherium female and cub appeared on an islet, but it is too low, and the water level continues to rise. In the evening, Tisquesusa searched for plant tubers under the supervision of his mother and managed to get enough food to go to sleep full. During the night, the water in the river continued to rise, and the area of the islet decreased rapidly. By morning Tisquesusa did not recognize the surrounding area. He and his mother slept on a hill, and in the morning the land area remaining with them amounted to only a few tens of square meters. A significant part of the vegetation disappeared under the water, and in any direction it was possible to walk a few steps only – and the water splashed farther. In such a shelter, one cannot survive the flood – the female with the cub does not have enough food, and the islet itself becomes smaller and smaller every hour. They need to go somewhere else and Tisquesusa will have to swim for the first time in his life. Before that, he only came across small forest rivers, through which even he could wade. But now he faces a serious test of viability.
Tisquesusa walked to the water’s edge. Previously, he was not afraid to cross small streams, but now he has a vast expanse of water in front of him. He sniffed the water, and then dipped his paw into it, but immediately pulled it back, as if he was afraid of something. He is frightened by the unknown – the unusualness of what is happening and its difference from everything that he knew before. His mother is not surprised by this amount of water – she has already experienced more than one flood, and knows what to do. The cub will have to learn by imitating his mother.
The myriyutherium female is also afraid of large expanses of water – this is not her native element, and predators can be found in the water, dangerous even for an adult myriyutherium. However, she has no choice: the water will rise higher all the same, and their shelter will disappear. So she took a few steps and entered the water resolutely. After a few more steps, the female’s feet already do not touch the bottom, and she swam, waving her paws alternately.
Tisquesusa is afraid to enter the water, so he hesitates. He clumsily tramples near the water, enters it, but immediately gets out onto the shore. But the female does not wait for him – she has chosen the direction towards the nearest hill, and now she is swimming there. Tisquesusa is still too young to survive alone, so parting with his mother is like death for him now. His bond with his mother is still too strong – stronger than his fear of water. Therefore, after hesitating for a few seconds, Tisquesusa entered the water and swam. He has never done this before, but he simply rakes his paws, moving them in the same order as when walking. Thanks to good nutrition, he has accumulated a layer of fat under the skin that keeps him on the surface of the water. The hardest thing was to keep the heavy head above the water, but it is balanced partly by the tail. However, Tisquesusa inhaled water into his nostrils for some times and sneezed, but he learned to keep his head in proper position very soon.
Hearing the sneezing of her cub, the mother slowed down and waited for him, just swaying on the surface of the water among the trees flooded by the river. Seeing that the mother had stopped, Tisquesusa began to row faster with his paws, and caught up with her soon. He buried his nose in the wet matted fur on his mother’s side, inhaling with pleasure her scent mixed with the smell of river water alien to him. And now he will not lag behind her anyway. His mother is the only thing he has, and Tisquesusa must learn from her how to behave in such an unusual environment. Mother has experienced river floods many times, so she knows the location of hills on her territory, where it is possible to wait out the flood, and simply swims to one of them. An adult female is confident in her abilities, but for a cub, this journey along the river is a rather difficult test: he swims after his mother, keeping up with difficulty. Previously, he did not have to experience such exertions – walking on solid ground is much easier and more familiar. However, the selva is a place where floods often occur, so Tisquesusa must be able to swim for a long time if he wants to survive. While he is small and weak, he can expect for the help of his mother. The tired Tisquesusa whimpered plaintively, and the mother, hearing this signal, slowed down. Tisquesusa swam up to her and delicately grabbed with his teeth the quills growing on the mother’s side. He relaxed his wobbly, tired paws and let them rest while his mother slowly swam forward, pulling him in tow.
They did not have to swim very long, but even an hour in the water greatly tired Tisquesusa. The mother remembers well the location of the saving hills on her territory and unmistakably swam to the right place. She gladly climbed ashore and walked on the ground – hard, but wet from the rain. The forest floor absorbs rainwater like a sponge, so with every step, water squishies under the paws of the myriyutherium female. However, it’s better than swimming and risking to fall prey of the monsters that the water hides.
Tisquesusa followed his mother ashore. The feel of the ground under his feet gave him a surge of joy, and the cub began to bounce clumsily around the mother, tail up. However, the mother does not share the joy of Tisquesusa. She looks around anxiously and sniffs the wet forest floor. During floods, large land animals gather on such islands, and it is not known who your neighbor may be. Most often this is an animal of the same species, and this is a more or less acceptable scenario. Myriyuterians are not social, but they treat each other without excessive aggression, however, during a flood, it is unpredictable what can be expected from such meeting of congeners – the animals are stressed, so their behavior can be completely unpredictable.
While exploring the area, Tisquesusa’s mother found a pile of droppings – an important find, as it indicates the presence of relatives. The dung is clearly left a long time ago: it is already soaked from the rain, but its smell is still distinct enough, and the myriyutherium female sniffs it. By smell, she determined that this beast was not familiar to her – during floods, individuals who had not encountered each other before could turn out to be neighbors. Therefore, the female is anxious: she sniffs the air and rumbles deeply, as if warning an invisible neighbor that it is better for it not to approach her. Tisquesusa still hardly understands this behavior of the mother, but her anxiety is transmitted to the cub, and Tisquesusa diligently copies the behavior of the mother, bristling his small quills.
The mother led Tisquesusa away from the water. The animals move forward slowly and cautiously. Under the feet of porcupines, lizards and snakes writhe – these reptiles also escape the water on the hills. Therefore, the female carefully takes literally every step – now there is a risk of accidentally stepping on a poisonous snake, and neither the mother nor the cub needs this. Adult myriyutherians themselves are literally saturated with poison, and the metabolism in the body of this beast species is able to neutralize the poisons of many snakes. However, for a cub, an accidental snake bite can be fatal.
The female and cub move away from the water. They make their way through thickets of large herbaceous plants with wide leaves, and among them nothing is visible just a few steps ahead. The female follows in the lead, and Tisquesusa barely keeps up with her, pushing with difficulty through the plants broken by his mother. The female moves on four legs, spreading the plants with her forehead and crushing them with her feet. She breaks especially strong petioles of leaves with her front paws.
Tisquesusa climbs difficulty over the stems of plants and often stumbles. In front of him, he sees only the backside, tail and legs of his mother, and around him there is a solid green wall. Suddenly, the female froze, and Tisquesusa bumped into her leg, but she did not even pay attention to him. His mother reared up on her hind legs, stretching out her front legs in a fighting stance and baring her huge incisors silently. Tisquesusa sensed his mother’s fear and hid behind her body. The quills and hair on the female’s body stand on end – she saw a real danger ahead.
Tisquesusa took a closer look and saw fragments of the spotted skin of some creature somewhere ahead between the leaves – it is bright red with dark, almost black ring-shaped spots. The female sees much more from her height.
Right in the way of the myriyutherium female and her cub, at a distance of only ten meters, a tragedy has recently broken out. On the ground the bloody and torn corpse of a myriyutherium porcupine lies – it is an adult male. Perhaps it was his droppings that the Tisquesusa’s mother discovered when they got to this island in the middle of a flooded river. Above the corpse of the myriyutherium is its killer – a large pregnant jaguarete female. Despite the poisonous meat, this porcupine still falls prey of predators, and the jaguarete is exactly the animal that is able to kill myriyutherium and eat its meat without harm to itself. It has enzymes in its saliva and gastric juice that destroy the toxin, so myriyutherium meat, especially eaten slowly, in small pieces, turns out to be quite edible for the jaguarete. The myriyuterium was killed recently: the cat’s muzzle is stained with fresh blood, and there is not yet a barely noticeable smell of decay in the air. Despite the fact that the female with the cub went straight to the jaguarete, they are actually not in danger. The jaguarete female has already got her prey, and she has spent a lot of energy to do it. Now, biting and swallowing warm meat, she is satiated and resting. However, if someone gets too close to the prey, the predator will have the strength to protect it.
The jaguarete female does not attack, but Tisquesusa’s mother continues to keep a defensive posture, spreading her quills. She does not approach the jaguarete female, but she stretches out her front paws with claws in front of her and defiantly slits her incisors – if it comes to a fight, they can bite the bones of the jaguarete’s paw. Her reaction is quite understandable: the mother protects her cub. Tisquesusa is very frightened. He does not know how to react to such a danger, so he simply freezes in place, keeping behind his mother. Taking the opportunity, he remembers the smell of blood and predator. This smell brought to his mind the memory of feces that his mother found once. Then Tisquesusa did not understand why she reacted so violently to this discovery, but now the separate fragments of information merged into a single picture. He remembered not only the smell, but also the image of the enemy, and he will keep it in mind for all further life – it is a lesson, which not learning can cost his own life for him.
The jaguarete female spotted Tisquesusa’s mother, although she could hardly see him hiding behind his mother’s huge body. Now she is too full and tired to attack another beast. She continues to tear pieces of meat from the carcass of myriyutherium, her eyes fixed on Tisquesusa’s mother.
Wanting to avoid continuing the meeting, which had already dragged on too long, Tisquesusa’s mother simply began to walk around the feasting cat at a safe distance. Although the jaguarete female is concerned with her prey, Tisquesusa’s mother is careful: she bypasses the predator, keeping sideways to it, spreading her quills and waving her long tail with a bone-horn mace at the end. She continues to bare her incisors and does not take her eyes off the predator. Tisquesusa keeps under cover of his mother’s body. He watches the female jaguarete continue to eat, and inhales with horror the smell of fresh blood of a congener. And when the jaguarete female bared her teeth in response to his mother’s careless step, Tisquesusa was truly frightened more than anything else that he had ever been in his short life.
Having bypassed the feasting jaguarete female, the mother led Tisquesusa farther into the forest. They need to get away from this terrible place. Little Tisquesusa has no idea what role this particular jaguarete female will play in his life. She decided to settle in this area for a long time, and is unlikely to leave it even after the end of the flood. Her pregnancy is coming to an end, and she has already managed to build a lair, where she spends a significant part of her time. She leaves it for a very short time – only to get food and support her life. After all, very soon she will have to live not only for herself, but also for several other small creatures that will be dearer to her than anything in the world.
Rains and floods make their own adjustments to the life of the inhabitants of the forest. The lower the level of the forest, the more the life of its inhabitants changes. In the forest canopy, the voices of many birds sound – this is their kingdom, and a few tens of meters above the ground their species diversity is especially rich. In the tree crones, the voices of many species are heard – some ones trilling skillfully, while others are ready to utter monotonous uniform calls for hours. Some birds hide in the foliage and rarely show up, while others are deliberately brightly colored, and their plumage can be seen even from the ground. Large kurekure parrots belong to such notable inhabitants of tree crowns. They behave very noisily, and their flock can be easily detected by their voices – loud and hoarse rattling calls. When the rain stops for a while, they fly in flocks among tree crowns. They are easy to recognize among other parrots by their bright green plumage with yellow primary feathers, clearly visible in flight. They rarely descend to the lower storey of the forest, so they do not care what happens on the ground. They make an exception for very few cases, and one of them is feeding on the fruits of polomiki lantana. In the forest canopy, kurekures eat soft fruits and crack nuts with their powerful beaks. The vigorous activity of these parrots, accompanied by their calls, begins as soon as the rain peters out. They do not like rain, and in heavy rain, they hide from bad weather in the foliage. At such a time, kurekures perch on the branches in whole rows, clinging to each other’s sides, and in existing pairs, the female even climbs under the wing to her male.
It’s even worse during the rain for the smallest forest birds, hummingbirds, which are going through hard times during the rainseason. These birds are too small to fly during the rain, so they are forced to feed during periods when the rain peters out and it is possible for them to fly. When it rains, hummingbirds hide in various shelters and fall into a torpor, saving their energy. This is a forced measure – fasting for several hours of wakefulness is deadly for them.
Thickets of lantana do not tolerate immersion in water, and this circumstance limits the distribution of the shrub. This plant grows in relatively dry places, not flooded by the river during floods, and its abundant flowering helps many neighboring hummingbirds survive the rainseason.
By mid-afternoon, the sky gradually brightened, and the fury of the rain petered out. For a while, light rain was still pouring from the sky, but then it gradually stopped, and the sun peeped through the breaks in the rain clouds. It warmed the rain-tired ground, and the forest dwellers began to leave their shelters. The thickets of polomiki lantana seemed to be preparing for the coming excitement: during the rain, nectar was produced in their flowers, and when the rain ended, the nectaries began to work even more intensively, and now the flowers have something to meet the hungry lovers of nectar. The raindrops on the lantana leaves had not yet dried up when the first butterflies flitted over the thickets. Black-and-red tapiyucan wasps rushed to check the well-being of their ward pokopoko treehoppers and harvest their honeydew to feed their relatives. The first hummingbirds began to hover over the lantana inflorescences. These miniature birds belong to a specialized lantana mango species, which life is closely linked to the well-being of polomiki lantana. Lantana mango females and males differ sharply from each other in coloration. The body color of the male combines predominantly green-blue shades and black areas, and there are small patches of red in the tail feathers. In the female, the wings are bright blue, visible from afar, and the head is crimson with a blue spot on the back of the head. The beak of lantana mango is long, slightly curved downwards and perfectly fitting in shape to the tube of the polomiki lantana flower. Having warmed up and given the opportunity to feed, lantana mangoes fly over thickets of fodder plants and strive to eat fill as quickly as possible. The rainseason is a difficult time for these birds, because the rains greatly reduce the feeding time of hummingbirds. Skirmishes between lantana mangoes constantly break out in the air above the lantana thickets. They drive each other away from the flowers, and those who are unlucky have to look for the less abundant nectar of other plants, already competing with other species of hummingbirds. But those individuals who managed to defend their feeding areas enjoy the abundance of nectar in the flowers, emptying them one by one. They perfectly distinguish flowers at different stages of blossoming and, first of all, suck nectar from the freshest barely opened flowers. Along the way, hummingbirds pollinate polomiki lantana, contributing to the emergence of new berries that attract a wide variety of animals to this plant. Not all hummingbirds will manage to survive the difficult time of the flood, and their worst enemy is hunger. But those who survive will be able to rear offspring when the rivers return to their banks.
…Time passed. Tisquesusa has grown noticeably and is now ten months old. Thanks to his own health and maternal care, he safely survived the first flood in his life. He is already large, only slightly inferior in size to his mother. She has taught her cub well, and Tisquesusa finds much of the food himself. He has long ceased suckling from his mother. However, for now Tisquesusa still continues to roam the forest with his mother; he is not yet strong enough to conquer new territory on his own. In addition, the smell of the mother calms him and creates a feeling of psychological comfort. However, he continues to grow, and the day will come soon, when he will have to start an independent life.
Tisquesusa has learned well the main trails in the territory of his mother – they often have to use them, moving from one source of food to another. One of the significant food resources is polomiki lantana. As Tisquesusa grew older, he lost his childhood aversion to the taste of this plant, and now he happily eats its shoots in large quantities, almost on a par with his mother, receiving chemical protection – the main secret weapon of his species – from the plant. Tisquesusa has learned to find colonies of pokopoko treehoppers and eat them before their guards, the tapiyucan wasps, swarm and attack him. He already knows many secrets of survival in the forest, but there are still things he has to learn.
The pair of myriyutheres feeds in the thickets of polomiki lantana once again. Tisquesusa had already learned the routes leading to this place and had been here many times with his mother. He is already looking for delicious berries of the plant on his own to bite after the bitter greens of the plant. He still does not go far from his mother, finding support and protection in her presence. He is not yet confident in his own abilities; therefore, in the case of a predator appearing, he relies on his mother’s help in protecting him from the danger.
A meeting with one of the predators of the selva turns out to be fast and quite predictable: in the thickets of polomiki lantana, the macrokupara feeds – an omnivorous heavy-built animal that does not refuse meat if it is possible to get it. The myriyutherians did not notice the animal feeding in the thickets, so they were frightened when the disturbed macrokupara suddenly stood up to its full height among the bushes. It was exactly the same situation that happened some time ago. The sudden appearance of a large beast no longer frightened, but caused aggression among the miriyutherians. Tisquesusa and his mother as if on cue stood up on their hind legs, extended their front paws with spread claws and bared their powerful incisors. This is the main weapon of rodents – these teeth are able to bite through the flesh of the enemy to the bone and even crush the bones when it comes to a fight. The macrokupara bares its teeth and growls, standing on its hind legs, but steps back slowly – now the superiority in strength is on the side of the myriyutherians. The macrokupara just wants to avoid conflict, so it tries to stay away from aggressive rodents. The myriyutheres, on the contrary, consolidate their success – they continue to threaten, displaying their incisors, growl and make an attack on the macrokupara. The rodents see that their opponent is retreating. Such behavior is no accident: this particular animal has already met them before. The macrokupara limps on its hind leg – it came into conflict with Tisquesusa and his mother when it tried to attack him, a very small cub, a certain time ago. When the beast turned around and took a few steps, a pink stripe of hairless skin became especially noticeable: it covers a huge scar at the site of the wound. The damage inflicted by the claws of Tisquesusa’s mother was very significant; the macrokupara survived, but the wounded paw never fully recovered its working capacity. It isn’t yet an old animal, but now it’s forced to move with great difficulty and eat more plant foods in order not to die of hunger. A meeting with the macrokupara does not pose a danger to myriyutherians – two porcupines are still stronger than an adult and lame beast. However, the danger is not always visible so clearly.
The conflict of the huge porcupines and the macrokupara was carefully watched from a shelter by two eyes of large cat. A predator with bright red fur and black ring-shaped spots is almost invisible among the forest shadows, especially for colorblind animals. An adult jaguarete had long been prepared an ambush place near the thickets of polomiki lantana, and now it is patiently waiting for the right moment to attack. The conflict between myriyutherians and macrokupara is a good reason for this, since the attention of the beasts is now directed at each other, and they do not pay attention to what is happening around. All the muscles of the jaguarete are tense: the beast is waiting for the right moment to attack.
At the moment, when the porcupine female stood on her hind legs, continuing to threaten the lame macrokupara, the jaguarete rushed forward. Ignoring the macrokupara and Tisquesusa, it attacked the myriyutherium female. With a powerful blow of the whole body, it knocked her over on her back and seized her by the throat. Having step on the front paw of the myriyutherium female, the jaguarete deprived her of the opportunity to defend herself. The powerful jaws of the predator pressed the head of the myriyutherium female to the ground, preventing her from using the incisors, and the predator’s teeth pinch the prey’s throat. A place not protected by the quills became the target of the predator’s attack, and the speed and surprise of the attack determined its success.
The macrokupara did not expect the appearance of a cat. A kind of parity is established between these two species in the selva undergrowth – it is something like an armed confrontation, when representatives of both species are afraid to attack each other so as not to receive damage from the rival, making it impossible to live and hunt in normal way. Therefore, when the jaguarete appeared, it clumsily turned around andrushed into the thickets, limping and trying to leave the scene of the drama as quickly as possible. The jaguarete did not choose it, and this meant that the macrokupara can live for some more time without fear of this predator.
Frightened by the sounds of the struggle, kurekure parrots flew up from the thickets of polomiki lantana. When they saw a jaguarete suffocating the myriyutherium female, they screamed with their nasty rasping voices, adding even more confusion to what is happening. From the forest, other parrots responded to their noise, and somewhere in the branches monkeys yelled.
Terrified Tisquesusa took to his heels. Not far from the lantana thickets, he and his mother had made a shelter where they usually spent the night when they were in this part of the forest – it is a huge trunk of a fallen tree, which cracked from hitting the ground. Tisquesusa’s mother dug a kind of cave under it, where they hid from the rain and spent several nights in a row while feeding in the lantana thickets nearby. Tisquesusa rushed completely unconsciously to that place, which promised him of having peace and protection from dangers. He crawled under the trunk, moving through a narrow hole in the ground and huddled in the farthest end of his shelter. He still hears the grinding cries of the kurekure parrots, and this cacophony will forever be associated with the presence of predators in him.
Ignoring the panic of the animals around, the cat suffocates the porcupine female, holding her paw with its clawed paw and not allowing her to defend herself. If the jaguarete would free the myriyutherium’s paw, the porcupine can easily fight it off and inflict terrible wounds that will incapacitate any predator – for a long time, or even forever. The teeth of the jaguarete continued to hold the throat of the myriyutherium until the prey ceased to show signs of life. It was all over in a matter of minutes. When the predator felt that the prey no longer had a pulse, its merciless jaws loosened. Now this myriyutherium is just some meat that the predator really needs at the moment. To the accompaniment of kurekure voices, the cat grabbed the prey by the head and dragged it into the thickets. The predator has got its prey, so the voices of kurekure will no longer spoil its hunt.
The killer of Tisquesusa’s mother turned out to be a female. And, ironically, it was exactly the same female that Tisquesusa and his mother met on the island during the last flood. Now their destinies crossed again, and this time their meeting led to tragedy.
The jaguarete female is very strong. The carcass of myriyutherium weighs no less than her own body, but the cat easily drags it through the forest, not paying attention to such obstacles as tree trunks and roots. She drags the porcupine carcass to her lair, where a hungry kitten is waiting for her – a young male Ajuricaba*.

* A military leader who united several Manaos Indian tribes in Brazil to fight the Portuguese colonialists.

Fate favored him from his birth. Ajuricaba is the only living cub in the litter; the second cub was born dead, and the mother simply ate its body right away. Now all the food and maternal care goes only to him, and he develops successfully, actually without feeling hungry. Since his birth, Ajuricaba has grown and strengthened significantly. His eyes are already open; he hears normally and moves around the lair. He still feeds mainly on mother’s milk, but his milk teeth have already begun to erupt, and he is trying to eat meat. Usually his mother brought him small prey – large rodents, birds and lizards. The cub played with it more than ate – he only slabbered it in his jaws, in which teeth barely erupted. And now, his mother had brought into the lair an unseen prey – a huge one he had never seen before. Ajuricaba came to the carcass and began smelling it; then he tried to bite it, but jumped back instantly, having got a quill prick on his lip.
The mother behaves more rationally: she tore open the belly of the prey and began to eat the entrails and meat. Attracted by the smell of blood and meat, Ajuricaba tried to tear off a piece of meat for himself, but the mother pushed him away from the prey with a short growl and bared her teeth, and she continued to feed after that. The mother does not allow him to touch the porcupine carcass, because Ajuricaba is too small: the cub has not yet secreted the enzymes necessary to neutralize the toxin that impregnates the meat of myriyutherium. However, he gets his share of the prey. Having slightly filled her hungry stomach with meat, the female carefully pulled out a piece of the liver of the prey for the cub and began to chew it in order to neutralize the toxin with her own saliva. Having thus prepared a piece of liver, she spat it out on the ground and allowed the kitten to eat this food. Ajurikaba quickly dealt with this portion of prey, and the mother gave him another piece, prepared in the same way. While the cub is small, the mother must prepare a kind of baby food for him, if they have myriyutherium meat for dinner. She must feed the cub in small pieces until he is full.
When Ajuricaba barely coped with the last piece of chewed myriyutherium liver, his mother continued to eat greedily. She peels off the skin from the carcass with movements of her paws with extended claws and greedily gnaws the carcass. Flies hover over a feasting jaguarete female, but even for them, myriyutherium meat is far from being the best food. The remains of the poison in the meat of the beast scare away even scavenger insects, and only the larvae of very few fly species are able to develop in such meat.
While the mother is feeding, Ajuricaba crawls under her side and tries to suckle milk, but now the mother is too busy eating her prey to pay attention to him. In addition, Ajuricaba has grown up, and it is time for him to switch to adult food. Therefore, the mother slightly growled at him, expressing her displeasure, and continued to enjoy her food. The kitten had to wait a little while the mother was fed, after which he tried to suck her again. And this time she did not refuse him.
Before sunset, the female fed several times on the carcass of myriyutherium, and Ajuricaba got a few more pieces of meat chewed by his mother. And at the beginning of the night, she dragged the remains of the prey away from the lair and buried it in the ground so that they would not be taken by the nocturnal scavengers. There will be enough meat on the carcass for the next day before it spoils so much that it cannot be eaten.
Ajuricaba grows up surrounded by motherly care. The jaguarete, a large predator at the top of the food pyramid, has very low fertility, and the cub lives with its mother for a long time. Therefore, she bears offspring once every three or four years, if the previous cub does not die before it becomes independent. In the litter, along with Ajuricaba, another male was born, but he died during the birth. Therefore, Ajuricaba has every chance for successful maturation. He is already switching to adult food and learning to hunt, although so far only insects have become his prey. For now, he is too small to hunt real prey, and he will have to learn the skill of killing from his mother for a long time. He will live with her for another three years, even after switching to an adult diet.
In contrast to Ajuricaba, young Tisquesusa will never again feel maternal care in his life. For the rest of that terrible day, the frightened young myriyutherium lay in his hiding place, afraid even to stick his nose out. He has no idea how much his life has changed. His bond with his mother had only begun to weaken, but had not completely broken, and he still needed maternal support in his daily life. Now there is no such support, and until the end of his days he will have to take care of himself – look for something to fill his stomach, notice danger in time, defend himself from enemies and defend his interests when meeting with congeners. In the meantime, he is too inexperienced, and he will have to comprehend all the wisdom of survival on his own. And sometimes it is difficult.
At night, Tisquesusa, being very hungry, got out of the shelter, despite his fear. Hunger appeared to be stronger than fear, and the young rodent carefully crawled out. He constantly sniffs the air, trying to catch the scent of his mother, but in vain. Having reached the place of his last feeding with his mother, Tisquesusa sniffed the ground and finally found what he was looking for – a faint, barely perceptible smell of his mother. It’s too old – she’s been gone for a long time. Sniffing the ground, Tisquesusa discerned the smell of his mother’s blood, which was mixed with the terrible smell of the jaguarete, her killer. He found a trace left by the body of his mother, which was dragged by a predator into its lair, and stumbled upon several quills that fell out of her skin and lay on the ground. Nothing reminds him of his mother anymore. Her image in the mind of the young myriyutherum will gradually fade away, losing its clarity and being replaced by other, more recent impressions and memories. But for now, the feeling of loss is fresh and strong. Having lost his mother, Tisquesusa is experiencing severe stress, and it forces him to change his usual way of life.Tisquesusa will now be afraid to feed during the day for a very long time. All the coming days, he will hide out during the day in his shelter, and get out for feeding only at night. In this way, his adult life began – much earlier and scarier than usual.
A few more days passed. The sense of loss is still strong, but Tisquesusa is slowly returning to habitual life. Now, when meeting with a predator, he can only rely on himself, so he is very careful. He has learned to recognize smells and sounds that indicate the approach of predators, and listens to the calls of birds, especially kurekure parrots. Several times their voices already helped him to find out in time about the approach of the animal, which was indirectly responsible for the death of his mother – a lame macrokupara male. Tisquesusa has learned to avoid encounters with this beast – while he is not strong enough to protect himself from this one, he prefers to simply keep a safe distance, or feed late in the evening and at night, when he is less likely to encounter competitors. Such encounters often take place in polomiki lantana thickets, which has already become a constant part of Tisquesusa’s diet.
Time passes, much is forgotten, but the mother’s lessons in obtaining food are remembered for a long time, as are the images and smells of predators – they are important for survival. At night, while eating the leaves of polomiki lantana, young Tisquesusa discovered by smell a colony of pokopoko treehoppers settled on the branches of lantana. During the day, these insects are easily visible due to the metallic sheen of their wings. But Tisquesusa’s keen sense of smell allows him to find them even in the dark. Having smelled these insects, he gladly began to eat the leaves along with sweet insects and their secretions. At night, the tapiyucan wasps keep in the nest, so Tisquesusa may not be afraid of their stings. But all the same, his meal was not very long: suddenly Tisquesusa felt his tongue as if burned by fire, and then the same sharp pain pierced his cheek from the inside. At night, the colony-destroyers of pokopokos may not be afraid of the stings of the tapyucan wasps, but at this time these insects still remain under reliable protection – they are protected by the ferocious tarukuwa ants, who charge the same price with sweet secretions for their services at night as wasps during the day. Large tarukuwa ants have a peculiar diet: adults of this species feed on gum and tree resins, which are digested with the participation of specific bacteria. And the secretions of pokopoko treehoppers are much easier to digest, and tarukuwa ants willingly visit their colonies at night.
Attacking Tisquesusa, who was devastating the pokopoko colony, the ants began to actively bite him in the face, climb into his nose, ears and eyes. Dozens of ferocious insects crawl through his fur, trying to bite his skin.Tisquesusa began sneezing and rubbing his eyes with his paws – he was no longer in the mood for treats. Several ants crawled into his nostrils, and their stings burned the animal’s nose from the inside. Sneezing and snorting, Tisquesusa shamefully fled the pokopoko colony, and the sweetness of this delicacy no longer attracted him so much. The bitten skin nags and itches, the eyes are watery, and the nose as if burnt by fire from the inside – the ants once again put to flight the enemy much larger than themselves.
As a result, for the rest of the night, Tisquesusa, sneezing and coughing, fed in the bushes of polomiki lantana, in which there were neither treehoppers nor ants. It isn’t as tasty, but relatively safe – due to the poisonousness of the plant, very few animals are able to feed on it. Having eaten his fill, he returned to his shelter under a tree trunk, where he would hide out and sleep off until the next night. While his fear is too strong, during the day he prefers not to expose himself to possible enemies.
For tarukuwa ants, driving large enemies away from patronized pokopoko colonies is a common activity. The sweet secretions of the pokopoko attract many lovers of this delicacy – from small insects that simply steal sweet honeydew, to giants like myriyutherium that eat not only honeydew, but also the pokopokos. Due to the ability to mobilize and poisonous bites, they are able to put to flight even a large enemy. The appearance of this ant is quite remarkable: it has a black head and a bright red abdomen, warning small predators about the defensiveness of these insects. Small birds quickly make acquaintance with tarukuwa ants, and avoid these bright creatures in the future.
The ants did not have long to celebrate the victory. After putting Tisquesusa to flight, they continued with their usual duties. Having evenly distributed themselves among the branches occupied by the colony of pokopoko, the worker ants began to harvest the secretions of these insects. Touching carefully the pokopoko’s body with its antennae, the ant tickles it and forces to secrete a drop of honeydew. Having drunk it, the ant passes to the next insect. Pokopokos have one peculiar “occupational disease”: sugary secretions not only attract ants and other animals, but also serve as a nutrient substrate for the growth of microscopic fungi. Sooty fungus often settles on the bodies of insects – this is a relatively harmless commensal, but after it, parasitic fungi can settle on the body of the insect, causing the death of the pokopoko. Because of it, tarukuwa ants carefully clear pokopokos of fungi settling on them.
Crawling along the branches, tarukuwa ants meet numerous insects. Many of them are random guests or petty thieves in the pokopoko colonies. Herbivorous insects are less common – the toxicity of polomiki lantana significantly reduces the number of species that feed on it. Occasionally, ants have to deal with truly significant opponents that cause serious damage to pokopoko colonies.
A very large caterpillar crawls along the lantana stem – it is about five centimeters long, with a wide flattened body. It has a large head capsule with powerful mandibles, and a conical chitinous horn towers above its head. Two more horns of the same kind stick out on the back of the caterpillar’s body. This is the larva of a large local butterfly itotoptera in the last stage of its development. It is already finishing feeding, and will soon turn into a chrysalis, but still continues to eat. The caterpillar crawls along the stem, from time to time raising its head and shaking it from side to side. It crawls up the lantana stalk, and its path leads to the pokopoko colony. Sensing the approach of the itotoptera caterpillar, the treehoppers begin to move. They began to carefully remove their proboscises from the vessels of the plant and flee: the itotoptera caterpillar in the last stages of growth is an active predator, and the slow pokopoko nymphs, which do not yet have saltatory legs and are wingless, represent a tasty dish for it. One of the insects did not have time to take its proboscis out of the lantana stem, and the itotoptera caterpillar overtook its prey. Having seized the nymph with its powerful mandibles, the itotoptera caterpillar began to literally chew it alive, bending the front part of the body upwards and holding the prey with all its legs. The poison in the body of the pokopoko did not stop the caterpillar, and soon the hard head and wings of the pokopoko fall down, and the predator crawled further for new prey. The smell of a dying pokopoko alarmed nearby tarukuwa ants, and several honeydew pickers blocked the caterpillar’s path. However, it did not take their appearance as something serious – one of the ants was immediately captured and eaten by it. The caterpillar was immediately attacked by several more ants, which began to bite it. For ants, this caterpillar is inedible, so they only bite it, trying to stop it. Their bites are not fatal, but unpleasant for the itotoptera caterpillar. Its immune system allows it to neutralize many poisons, and tarukuwa ant venom is one of them. Therefore, the caterpillar simply crawls through the crowd of ants, continuing to hunt. Pokopoko nymphs do not have time to flee – the caterpillar easily overtakes them, despite the efforts of ants to protect their wards. When the number of ants around the caterpillar becomes too large, it simply secretes a little amount of ant-pacifying fluid from special glands. These glands will become especially active during its pupal stage, but even now the small amount of caterpillar’s secretions confuses the defenders of pokopokos, and they simply began to crawl absently over its body, not perceiving the caterpillar as an enemy. The itotoptera caterpillar’s appetite is great: in about an hour, it ate a dozen pokopoko and some more ants. Satisfied, it crawled onto a lantana leaf and clung to its underside, digesting food at rest.
When the itotoptera caterpillar disappeared and its secretions dissipated, the tarukuwa ants gradually returned to their normal condition: they continued to herd and clean their pokopokos, harvesting their sweet honeydew along the way. No one bothered them again that night.
All night long, the tarukuwa ants gathered secretions from the pokopoko treehoppers. This type of food is digested more easily than the sap and gum of trees, which are more common in the diet of these ants, so the ants actively settle the pokopokos in thickets, organizing new colonies of these insects.
Pokopoko colonies are guarded by tarukuwa ants at night and by tapiyucan wasps during the day. But about once a day, there comes a time when, for an hour, a battle for the right to own this source of food between two social insect species is played out in the colonies of pokopoko. It happens so, because both hymenopteran species consider the pokopokos to be their livestock. Usually their interests in the pokopokos are separated by the time of activity, but in the morning their activity time overlaps, and this leads to interspecies conflict.
By morning, the bulk of the tarukuwa ants had already disappeared into the nest, which the workers of this species had gnawed out in the trunk of one of the nearby trees. Tarukuwa ants prefer to spend hot days under the protection of wood thickness, where there is an optimal humid microclimate with a relatively constant temperature. The last workers of this species are still running around the colony of pokopoko treehoppers, gathering sugary honeydew for relatives. One of these ants lingered, taking care of the pokopokos and stroking their abdomens with its antennae. In response to its actions, pokopokos emit droplets of honeydew, which the ant greedily drinks.
The enemy attacked it from the air. The sting of a tapiyucan worker wasp hit its thorax, paralyzing the ant, but it managed to emit a small amount of alarm pheromone. Its signal was picked up by other ants that still remained in the pokopoko colony, and several individuals, having fallen off the polomiki lantana branches, rushed along the paths towards the ant nest, marking their paths with a mobilization pheromone. Ants have no equal in the ability to mobilize quickly a large number of relatives to perform a certain task, and after a few minutes, dozens of very aggressive insects appeared on the branches of the bush.
The tapiyucan wasps had barely begun their daily care of the pokopoko colony when a mass of tarukuwa ants, attracted by the alarm signal, rushed at them, and a battle not for life, but unto death ensued. Each wasp grabs the ant with its legs, stings it and throws aside. Some wasps even bite off the heads of ants, or crush them with powerful mandibles. Ants follow a different tactic: it is more important for them to keep the wasp on the ground, where they will simply prevail in numbers. Several ants hold the captured wasp by its legs and antennae, literally crucifying it, and another ant gnaws off the wasp’s head. Sometimes the ant manages to do this and stay alive, but often the wasp’s sting kills it, and the dead ant remains hanging on the wasp’s body without opening its mandibles.
Ants have more numbers, but they lack the ability to fly and cannot attack from the air. Having attacked the wasp, they try to immobilize it faster, but often the help fails to arrive in time, and the wasp takes off with the ant that attacked it, spifflicating it in the air. Since wasps are larger, more aggressive, and more evasive due to their ability to fly, they usually win. New forces are pulled up to help the attacked wasps from the nest, and the army of ants gradually retreats, not forgetting to drag away a couple of dozen dead wasps. Adult ants feed on gum and sugary substances, but they feed their larvae on chewed insect meat. Wasps also do not leave the corpses of ants, feeding their own larvae on them.
Tapiyucan wasps not only pollinate polomiki lantana – they actively help it grow. The ripen berries of the plant that fall to the ground rot, and the seeds germinate quickly. However, lantana seedlings are rather delicate and vulnerable, they are easily drowned out by forest grasses and tree seedlings, intercepting with foliage the sunlight they need. Lantana sprouts do not have enough poison to oppress too many competitors, and they are helped in the struggle for living space by tapiyukan wasps. Many worker wasps of this species crawl along the ground in the undergrowth. They usually hunt small insects to feed their larvae or gather building materials for the nest. However, having found a lantana seedling by smell, the wasp seems to forget about its daily duties. It begins to crawl around the plant in an expanding spiral, and bites the seedlings and shoots of other plant species around it. The seedling of polomiki lantana turns out to be surrounded by a ring of bare ground with a diameter of about the size of a palm, getting the opportunity to develop normally.
The spread of polomiki lantana through the forest would not have been possible without herbivorous birds that spread the seeds of this species. Kurekure parrots, inhabitants of the forest canopy, are among the most efficient seed dispersers. Flocks of kurekures are very noisy, their voices are heard for many hundreds of meters, and these birds are easily recognized among other species by their green body color with yellow flight feathers. They usually search for food in the forest canopy, but descend into lantana thickets to feed on ripe fruits. Outside of nesting time, these birds wander through the forest, so they spread the seeds of the bush over a long distance.
Kurekures feed in large flocks of several dozen individuals. Birds can afford to be a little less careful than other inhabitants of the selva: there are many eyes in their flock, and the one who notices the danger notifies the other relatives about it, and the whole flock flees. The voices of kurekures are one of the most recognizable alarm signals in the selva.
Polomiki lantana grows in the forest, and with the support of insects, its thickets expand the living space, inhibiting even the development of small trees. Along the edges of the thickets of polomiki lantana, a quiet but stubborn struggle with other plants takes place, and the result of its spread is the presence of significant “bald spots” among the woody vegetation, occupied by undersized lantana. In such places, sunlight penetrates to the trunks and branches of trees, and epiphytes grow abundantly on them – ferns with feathery fronds or orchid bushes with variegated flowers. Vines creeping along tree trunks often die from below and continue to grow already as epiphytes, and their large dissected leaves cast bizarre shadows on the trunk and branches of the tree that have become their support.
The breeze shakes the leaves of a huge liana, and a dance of light and shadow hides a large creature lurking among the foliage. It scans the flock of kurekure carefully, choosing possible prey, and sharp claws break off the bark plates when the predator squeezes the branch with its toes. It can clearly see the mighty myriyutherium eating lantana greens somewhere on the edge of the thickets, and the lone macrokupara, which limps, wandering among the thickets in search of lantana berries. But this is too large prey, and myriyutherians are also armed with hard quills. Tiny hummingbirds, lantana mangoes, colorful and sparkling in the sun, are too small and nimble to be hunted. But kurekure is the most suitable prey. It just needs to wait for the right moment to attack.
One of the parrots moved into the center of the polomiki lantana thickets. Myriyutherium or macrokupara can hardly squeeze in here, and the most delicious fruits that ripened in the sunlight grow here. The parrot perched on a branch sticking up and hung with berries, and began to feast, greedily eating them. Too late, he noticed the shadow, silently gliding under the canopy of the forest, and the cries of the other parrots were clearly too late this time. The shadow swept over the bushes on wide wings, the clawed foot grabbed the parrot, and the long claws pierced the prey almost through, instantly killing it – the seized kurekure did not have time to make even a sound. Flapping its wings, the monster gained altitude and, to the cries of kurekure, disappeared among the trees on the opposite side of the clearing overgrown with polomiki lantana.
The winged monster was the male of illapa – the largest feathered predator of the selva. An eagle-sized bird is actually an overgrown kite, and ambush hunting is a very characteristic behavioral feature of the illapa. The bird is very fond of ambushing in the forest along the banks of rivers, as well as in any other places where there are gaps in the forest canopy. This species is the apex predator of the forest canopy, the threat of all large tree-climbing animals. Holding the carcass of the parrot with its huge claws, the illapa male is resting. His appearance is very recognizable: he has a black head with ruby red eyes. The motley plumage helps the bird to hide among the thickets of epiphytes, and very often the prey notices its approach too late.
The voices of kurekures are becoming more and more distinct: the parrots have found him. Several parrots of this species appeared in the neighboring trees, and the male illapa shook himself, as if trying to shake their unpleasant raspy voices out of his head. A flock of kurekures gradually gathers around the illapa, and the calls of other forest birds join their voices. They know that the predator has received its prey, so it is safe to mob it, although it is useless. Grabbing the kurekure carcass with its beak, the illapa male took off and carried the prey to the nest, dropping the colored feathers of the parrot along the way. At a safe distance, he is pursued by the entire flock of parrots crying loudly, joined by several birds of other species. Their voices warn the inhabitants of the forest canopy about the danger, therefore, having heard the cacophony of the flock of birds, monkeys and other arboreal beasts hide, and other flocks of kurekure somewhere in the distance respond, as if grabbing
the baton. The alarm cries of other bird species are hardly audible against the background of the cries of a kurekure flock.
Illapas occupy a vast territory – each bird needs about a hundred square kilometers of hunting grounds to feed. Therefore, the path to the nest is not close even for a well-flying bird like the illapa itself. The flock of parrots and other pursuers was left far behind when in the field of view of the male a giant nest appeared, built on the branches of a tall tree, under the canopy of a large branch, covering both from the sun and from the rain.
The illapa male must hunt not only for himself: recently three chicks hatched in the nest. While they are small, they have enough food brought by their parents. Even a relatively small carcass of a kurekure parrot will allow them to get sated and calm down for a while.
The male dropped the dead bird into the nest, from where he was greeted with a squeak by the ever-hungry chicks. They are not alone: the larger female is already in the nest, and she also greeted him with cries. The male landed on the edge of the nest and walked around, looking at his offspring. He saw that the female was already feeding to them a young mboi-tata caecilian, which she managed to catch herself: she tears the amphibian into pieces and puts the meat in the beaks of the hungry chicks. It seems that today the kurekure carcass will be eaten not by the chicks, but by the female herself: from the moment the offspring appear, adult birds spend a lot of time hunting, and in this case, not every attack is successful, and the chicks need food in the first place, and usually parents get only leftovers. The illapa male gave the female a parrot carcass so that she could at least have a bite to eat herself. Having finished feeding the chicks the female pressed the carcass with her foot against the edge of the nest and began to tear feathers out of it. The male himself barely had time to catch his breath and swallowed only a small piece of slippery mboi-tata, after which he took off and went in search of a new victim. To raise offspring successfully, parents must spend a lot of effort, and even in this case, not all chicks will be able to survive: over time, they will begin to compete intensely for food, and someone will become a victim of their own siblings.
The life of herbivore is simpler than that of a predator. It does not need to learn to hunt, but it must be able to search for food among many types of plants. The species diversity of rainforest plants is high, but often the plants are poisonous or too thorny. These are the costs of the struggle for existence in conditions of an abundance of herbivores: herbaceous plants have too many enemies, so poison and thorns, alone or in combination with each other, are popular defense devices that, if not completely get rid of enemies, then significantly reduce their number.
Tisquesusa eventually coped with the stress that the loss of his mother caused him. He gradually ceased to be afraid to feed during the day, and now leads a familiar lifestyle – he feeds during the day and spends the night in some kind of temporary shelter. He has become cautious and very often listens to the bird voices in the forest. And the voices of kurekure parrots cause him fear, even if these birds mob an owl or an illapa somewhere high in the crowns of trees. And yet Tisquesusa is in dire need of the company of other members of his species in order to somehow compensate for the absence of his mother nearby. He tried to get close to various myriyutherians, but they were mostly adult animals, and they were aggressive about the presence of Tisquesusa next to them. Nevertheless, he continued to try, and after a few days he chose a more successful replacement for his mother. The young beast stuck to a female with a cub, whom he once met near the thickets of lantana. Tisquesusa keeps close to them, trying not to fall behind, as if trying to find protection from someone else’s mother. The cub of this female shows natural curiosity: it tried several times to approach Tisquesusa, but the mother each time stood between them and persistently pushed the cub away from the unfamiliar animal. The female herself tolerates his presence, because in the smell of Tisquesusa she catches the features inherent in the cub, and this makes her parental instinct work, but Tisquesusa still smells different from her cub, so the female is on her guard and stops any attempts by Tisquesusa to get close to her and a cub. She tolerates his presence rather than accepting him. And if her cub happens to be next to Tisquesusa, the female instinctively protects the cub. She barks at Tisquesusa and ruffles the quills, threatening him.
Being close to this family allows Tisquesusa to learn some more survival lessons. The young male makes no attempt to take food away from them, but carefully sniffs the remnants of their food, remembering the smells, and sometimes just eats up the leftovers of tubers or leaves from their dinner. His lessons are not over yet, and his survival is in question for now, but Tisquesusa is no longer a small cub and knows how to learn. He tries to put into practice the lessons learned in this way, looking for edible plants a little away from the female with the cub, and each successfully learned lesson increases his chances of survival.
Several days of neighborhood with the myriyutherium family passed relatively peacefully.Tisquesusa carefully kept his distance, so his presence did not cause aggression – the female, at most, displayed a threat, but Tisquesusa quickly stepped aside, and she calmed down.
One morning Tisquesusa habitually began to search for food. He wandered around the female and her cub, looking at them, and was busy more in looking for edible plants. He managed to find one of them quite quickly: its spotted leaves are clearly visible and recognizable. This plant with variegated leaves, one of the types of calathea, is very tasty for him. Fragments of his memories preserved the image of his mother, who often looked for this plant and allowed him to feast on dug up starchy roots. Tisquesusa began to dig, and soon succeeded in pulling out of the ground several long spindle-shaped rhizomes, rich in starch and having a pleasant taste. Having torn off one of them, Tisquesusa began to chew it with pleasure. He did not notice that the adult female approached him from behind, and felt that she began to push him away from the delicacy, only having got a kick in the side. The female does not show aggression: her quills are pressed to the body, and she simply pushes him sideways. Tisquesusa whined in annoyance, but did not back down – he pushed the female in response, feeling that she had retreated. He has already become stronger than at least some of the adults, which means that he could already survive on his own. But the response to his push was unexpected: the female bristled with quills, stood up on her hind legs and began to step toward him, growling and baring her incisors, as if he weren’t another myriyutherium, but a predator. The conflict over food turned into real aggression – the female felt that he was already strong enough to pose a danger to her own cub. She steps on him aggressively, pushing him by head and paws away from food, and at the same time waving his tail menacingly from side to side. Tisquesusa knows only too well what this gesture means: it is a final warning, followed by a full body turn, followed by a tail swipe that sticks many pointed quills into the skin and muscles of the enemy. This female is primarily concerned about her offspring, and she felt that Tisquesusa could become a competitor to her own offspring.
Frightened, Tisquesusa fled into the forest – an attempt to find at least some semblance of maternal affection failed, and he again became a loner and was doomed to explore the world on his own.Tisquesusa is in a precarious position: he already knows enough to not go hungry, but not enough to successfully avoid or confront predators. Now he is on the fine line between life and death. Many of his relatives die at the age of a year or a little more, starting an independent life, and Tisquesusa had to become independent too early.
Over time, Tisquesusa found a more or less permanent feeding area in the forest. Part of this territory is a river bank, and Tisquesusa often feeds near the water. At this point, the river breaks the forest canopy, so sunlight penetrates to the ground, stimulating the rapid growth of herbaceous plants. The banks of the river, composed of easily eroded sediments, represent a favorable place for the growth of moisture-loving plants that can withstand flooding. Tisquesusa does not come here, although grasses near the water are juicy and taste good: the banks of the river are very swampy, and once Tisquesusa almost died, with difficulty getting out of the squelching mud, which sucked him almost up to his knees. He is too heavy to move on such soil, so he prefers to feed on a dry shore.
Long-legged, graceful and fragile animals with dark legs and brown hair on the body feed in the thickets of marsh plants – these are jakarawas. They are distinguished by a bizarre appearance: muzzle of this beast is elongated into short mobile proboscis, and ears are wide and rounded. These animals look like a small antlerless deer with long legs and a graceful elongated neck, but in fact they are descendants of a small caviomorph rodent – agouti of the human era. Surprisingly, these small animals are close relatives of the giant groundsloth rodent, a gorilla-like wanderer of the Patagonian plains, although they do not look like it at all. But similarly looking cursorial four-legged deermaras from the plains of South America are their very distant relatives. Jakarawas are also related even to myriyutherium, although their relationship is much more distant. However, both of them are caviomorph rodents, and in South America of the early Neocene they went through the period of intensive adaptative radiation, filling various ecological niches previously occupied by mammals from other orders, and as if testing their neighbors for strength. As a result, many ecological niches in various ecosystems of the continent turned out to be occupied by various rodents, and the jakarawa is a typical representative of them.
This fast-footed cautious creature is a semi-aquatic animal, perfectly adapted to living in two environments, as well as on their border, where ground and water mix and form marshy mud impassable for many large forest dwellers. Graceful jakarawas with their spreading digits are able to move through wetlands easily, and this skill helps them escape from land-based predators. The movable muzzle allows the jakarawa to eat grass, capturing even thin blades of grass with its lips. The ancestor of this species was able to crack hard nuts with its teeth, but the jaws of the jakarawa have become much weaker, and it feeds only on soft grassy vegetation. Sappy marsh plants are its usual food, and jakarawa can even eat plants that are poisonous to other mammals.
The head of the herd of these rodents is the male. It differs from females with a darker brownish coat and larger size. He has the right to eat the most delicious plants and tubers, and the females resignedly yield to him. But he also has to protect the herd from the encroachments of other males or from the attack of small predators. Jakarawas prefer to flee from large predators, or simply dive into the water. While the females are feeding, the male often sniffs the air and looks around – one of the most dangerous predators for the jakarawa is the illapa, and it is vital for them to notice the attack of this monster in time.
A pair of cubs feeds next to adults. Unlike adult animals, they are striated, like zebras, but the pattern is not black and white, but of brown shades. As long as their mothers are calmly nibbling on plants and the head of the herd is not sounding alarms, the cubs can play with each other. Thanks to the striped coloration, one of the cubs deftly hides in the thickets and freezes while the playmate is busy looking for it. And the discovered cub, escaping from its pursuer, jumps springily around the feeding adults, bouncing much higher than their backs. From time to time, the roles of the cubs change, and their games bring revival to the monotonous life of these herbivores. These young animals have not yet left their mother’s care, so one or the other interrupts the game to suck milk.
The adaptive radiation of South American rodents has led to the emergence of many species of various shapes and sizes, occupying different ecological niches. In various ecosystems of the mainland, there are many small species of caviomorph rodents resembling species that existed in human epoch. However, some of the Neocene rodents are truly huge.
Far from the shore, huge bodies slowly move under water at a depth. These creatures are huge, and even almost in the middle of a forest river, their growth is enough to walk along the bottom of the river on four legs, being barely covered by water. They are accompanied by schools of fish, and downstream from the herd of these creatures a long muddy plume stretches. One of the animals pushed off the river bottom and surfaced. A huge head with high-set ears, eyes and nostrils emerged from under the water. The nostrils opened, and noisy exhalations and inhalations followed. The huge animal headed towards the shore, and its relatives followed it. Large barocavias emerge from the water one after the other, and the water flows down their sides. Thick powerful legs are equipped with blunt claws, more like hooves, and easily support several tons of the animal’s live weight. These beasts have convergent similarity to African ishisongas and boaropotamuses, but are far from being related to them. Looking at them, it’s hard to believe that these ones are also rodents – in size they are more comparable to hippos and rhinos. South America is a place where during the Cenozoic rodents more than once made attempts to become larger, and in the Neocene their giant representatives are found everywhere on the continent.
When barocavias appeared, small jakarawas rushed to the side, giving way to the giants, but they did not do it out of fear. The only thing they don’t want is to accidentally fall under the feet of these giants, who are not used to watching where they step. It happens that jakarawas seek salvation in the proximity of barocavia – not every predator will dare to attack them in the presence of giants, because barocavia can perceive its actions as an attack on themselves and go on the defensive.
A small herd of barocavias climbed ashore. Like in the case of jakarawa, the leader is a large male with a huge head. He yawned, and snow-white incisors of monstrous sizes are visible in his mouth. Their dazzling brilliance is a sign of the health and strength of the beast, and their size and strength make it easy to bite tree branches if they can be reached. On the head of this male, the wool hides many scars received both during mating tournaments and during protection from predators. This is a skilled fighter and a well-deserved leader of the herd – he is able to put to flight even a ferocious jaguarete.
Ignoring the small jakarawas, the huge rodents wander into the forest. Here, between the trees, year after year they have trampled a path on which little can grow through the layer of trampled soil. Barocavias feed in the forest, and the appetite of these giants is very large – they are able to eat away the greenery of herbaceous plants over large areas. Therefore, barocavias are forced to constantly move around the feeding territory so as not to deplete food supplies. However, in this part of the forest, they are looking not for fodder plants, but for thickets of polomiki lantana. Although this plant is poisonous, and a large enough amount of its greenery can kill an adult barocavia, animals regularly visit its thickets – they have a very definite interest in this plant.
When barocavias approach the polomiki lantana thickets, this does not go unnoticed by anyone. Huge animals move along the path, cutting off and destroying the vegetation, and the echoing stomp of their feet scares away the small inhabitants of holes. Myriyutherians fed in the thickets simply move aside or completely leave this part of the forest, and flocks of birds that fed on the berries of the plant hastily finish pecking at the berries and fly away.
The mighty barocavias sniff the greens of polomiki lantana, as if making sure that they had found the right place. The sense of smell plays an important role in the life of these animals, giving them much more information about the environment than vision. Several animals had plucked off the very tips of the lantana shoots and had chewed them, despite the bitter taste of the plant. Animals do not need the greens of these plants as food, because even the mighty organism of an adult healthy barocavia can fail to cope with the poison of lantana. However, a very small amount of poisonous greenery of the plant is a good anthelmintic. The animals prefer to use lantana greens as a remedy in a slightly different way. The male leader of the herd resolutely entered the thickets, breaking them with his feet, and simply fell on his side, breaking the bushes. Having arranged for himself such an impromptu couch, he began to rub against the plant mass, rubbing the sap of crushed shoots into his wool. The females followed his example, and in a few minutes a significant part of the thickets of lantana was crushed by the bodies of the animals, wallowing in rapture on them. From time to time, the barocavias scratch themselves against the ground, snoring loudly with pleasure. The poisonous sap of the plant, soaking into the fur of animals, repels ticks and blood-sucking insects from them, and also leeches, when animals stay in the water.
The hygienic procedures of barocavias bring confusion to the lives of guests and inhabitants of the thickets of polomiki lantana. Myriyutherians simply leave the thickets so as not to be in the path of these giants – if a conflict accidentally arises, the quills of these huge porcupines will not be able to protect them from the mighty barocavias. Hummingbirds, butterflies and tapiyucan wasps fly over the thickets, trying to stay away from the barocavias wallowing on them. Kurekure parrots express their dissatisfaction loudest of all – the beasts prevented them from feeding on berries, and the sharp rattling voices of these birds are heard far in the forest.
Barocavias stayed in the polomiki lantana thickets no more than half an hour. One by one, the animals rise to their feet and stand motionless for a while, sniffing the air, in which there is a sharp smell of sap from the crushed shoots of polomiki lantana. They try not to wallow in the thickets for too long: the poison from the sap of the plant is absorbed in some quantity into the skin of animals and enters the bloodstream. This kind of hygiene procedure is very effective, but if used incorrectly, it can harm the animal. When the barocavias leave the thickets, a specific aroma of polomiki lantana sap comes from their hair.
After the hygienic procedures of barocavias, the thickets look terrible – where the beasts wallowed, the trunks and branches of the bushes are broken and crushed, and some of the shoots are simply trampled into the ground. Tisquesusa came to the polomiki lantana thickets just at the time when barocavias were about to return to the river. He often observed barocavias eating water plants or marsh grasses on the banks of the river, so meeting them in the thickets of lantana was somewhat unexpected for him. He rarely saw the barocavia up close, so the huge size of the animals made a lasting impression on him. He tries not to get too close to them, and sees how the branches of the lantana break under their feet. After the barocavia herd left the thicket, Tisquesusa looked around and sniffed the air. It smells of barocavias and their manure, and Tisquesusa is well aware of this smell, which does not promise anything bad – the barocavias are huge, but harmless ones. And Tisquesusa’s favorite feeding place is almost completely devastated by the huge rodents. Hummingbirds and insects circle over the miraculously surviving patches of flowering thickets of lantana, and the main part of the thickets is literally rolled up by huge bodies of barocavias. Lush multi-colored inflorescence heads are smeared on the ground, young shoots are broken, and the foliage is crushed. The porcupine simply has nothing to eat here. Having eaten several shoots at the edge of the thickets, Tisquesusa walks away. In the territory where he searches for food, there are several more places where lantana grows, and he is able to feed on other plants also. He is in a better position than hummingbirds and insects that feed exclusively on this plant. They’ll have to go through some tough weeks, until thickets of lantana will restore.
Polomiki lantana is well adapted to the struggle for existence in the face of competition with many other plant species. The shoots are broken, but the roots mostly survived, so the plant will quickly recover from the root shoots. Its shoots trampled into the ground will quickly give roots, and axillary buds will begin to sprout on broken branches. Butterflies and hummingbirds have only accidentally survived plants along the edges of the thickets to feed on, so they have to look for food in the areas where the giants have not reached, or temporarily switch to feeding on the nectar of other plants. But in about a month, lush thickets will spread here again, attracting pollinators with bright flowers.
Some events in the life of the selva happen quickly, while others require much more time. For example, the growth of illapa chicks takes a very long time. Events in the life of the brood of these predators developed rather tragically. Although the male and female hunted quite successfully, the growing chicks required significantly more food than their parents could provide. One of the chicks, a female, died quite early, and by the time one of the parents returned with food, it had already been almost completely eaten by its brothers: after this incident, only the two males remained in the brood. When one extra mouth was gone, they began to get more food, and the young illapas had already begun to fledge. They still have a lot of juvenile down, but on the wings and tail, long feathers that have not yet unfolded have sprouted from under it. The chicks have already grown stronger and walk around the nest, and the parents, those arriving with prey are met with a loud squeak and flapping of wings, and they push and press back each other away from the prey. They are already strong and very voracious, ready to eat often and in large quantities. Therefore, gradually the amount of food brought by their parents appeared not enough for them. Adult birds spend a lot of time hunting and are absent from the nest for a long time, and the chicks in their absence arrange fights, sometimes even for the completely inedible remnants of their former prey, such as a dried bird wing or a piece of mammal skin.
The illapa female had no luck in the hunt for a long time: in the morning she was inopportunely noticed by noisy kurekures, and she had to escape from their annoying attention threatening to disrupt her hunt. Then the monkey that she was hunting safely slipped away at the last moment, and the bird itself had to hide for a long time in the foliage before the disturbing cries of the forest canopy inhabitants subsided. When the female finally flew to the nest, holding in her paws a meager prey, a small duck preyed almost by accident, she saw that one of the chicks had already solved the problem of finding food. While there were no adult birds with food, he simply killed his brother and ate him. The wind carries the fluff and feathers of the killed chick, and his brother greedily tears his meat. Now only one chick remained in the brood of illapa couple – Saguanmachika*. Left alone, he guaranteed his survival, because now all the food will come only to him, and he will be able to grow and get stronger in safety.

* In honor of one of the chiefs of the Chibcha-Muisca Indians

Although right now, at least, one prey item of his parents will not get to him. The female did not interfere with him feeding on the corpse of his brother, and she began to peck at the brought duck herself. She does not care what the chicks do to each other: she will only feed the one who asks for food, and no matter how many hungry mouths there are in the nest. Therefore, she reacted to what was happening in the nest indifferently, and simply satisfied her own hunger. It is more expedient for her to raise one strong, normally developed chick than two less viable ones.
The biology of polomiki lantana is one of the few unique cases when a selva plant forms extensive single-species thickets. The well-being of this plant determines the life of many species of animals of the Amazonian selva associated with this species. Polomiki lantana plays a very important role in the life of various birds: omnivores, insectivores and nectarivores. Among them there are both temporary visitors to the thickets, such as kurekure parrots, and permanent inhabitants, closely connected to the plant by trophic relationships. Such birds try to nest closer to lantana thickets.
The lantana thickets quickly recovered from the damage caused by the hygiene procedures of barocavias. Already two weeks after the visit of these beasts, the thickets were dressed in fresh greenery, new shoots grew from broken branches, and one more week later, the first flowers began to blossom above the fresh greenery. A month later, nothing remembers about the ravage caused by the barocavias.
When flowers appeared on the lantana, its pollinators also return. Like shining lightenings, tiny motley hummingbirds – lantana mangoes – fly above the thickets. These birds have beaks perfectly fitting the depth and shape of the flower of this plant. Having plunged its beak into the flower, this bird sucks out the nectar and simultaneously carries away on its forehead the lumps of the pollen which will be removed from bird’s feathers by the stigma of the next flower it will visit. Lantana mangoes take the benefit of the plenty of nectar given them by this plant, and their number in polomiki lantana thickets may be rather high.
The nesting of lantana mangoes takes place away from the lantana thickets, where there are too many enemies and random guests who can ravage the nest – near the reservoir closest to the thickets, where these hummingbirds make a small hanging nest above the surface of the water. One lantana mango male, ready to reproduce, has chosen a mate, and courts her by performing a bizarre courtship dance in the air. The female also liked him, and she reacted favorably to his courtship. The courting male led the female away from the lantana thickets, following approximately the same way that the barocavias had come here some weeks ago. The path is overgrown with herbaceous plants, but above it the sunlight breaks through the forest canopy in some places, and in the rays of sunlight the lantana mango male hovers in air, flaunting his shiny plumage in front of the female.
On the same day, both mates took up the construction of the nest. They chose thin branches of a low tree hanging over the surface of the water, and began making a miniature cup-shaped nest. Birds twist whitish fibers, seed fluff and cobwebs gathered among trees into a kind of fabric. The place is chosen so that ground-dwelling predators will not dare to get to the nest. The birds tied with fibers two branches touching each other and placed between them a miniature structure of lichens and bird feathers, fastened with pieces of cobwebs, eventually forming something like a little basket. A day later, the female laid the first egg – relatively large by the standards of hummingbirds. A full clutch of lantana mango contains three to five eggs. Caring parents will change each other every day – while one parent hatches the eggs, the other one feeds it. The incubation will last 11 days – these birds grow quickly and have a short lifespan.
Despite the fact that these birds are tiny, during nesting they are ready to fight for their offspring against any enemy. The main weapon of the lantana mango is its pointed beak, and the main advantage is high speed and maneuverability of flight. During incubation, lantana mangoes feed not in polomiki lantana thickets, but on other plants that grow not far from their nest. Birds must replace each other in the nest, as well as protect the nest itself and the surrounding area.
A nest of lantana mangoes, hanging on the tips of branches, is practically inaccessible to terrestrial animals: few of them are able to freely roam the swampy river banks and swim. However, there are animals for which swamps and rivers represent the most favorable habitat. Graceful jakarawas roam the shallow water, plucking the leaves of marsh plants. The male leads a herd of several females and cubs, protecting them from small predators. Browsing the plants, the animals approached the borders of the nesting territory of lantana mangoes. These beasts are herbivores, but the hummingbird male rushed immediately towards the intruders. His strength is not enough to give a physical rebuff to violators of the borders, but he has effective defensive techniques in reserve against a large opponent. A small bird flits before the eyes of the jakarawas like a huge fly, constantly distracting them and not giving them the opportunity to feed quietly. When the jakarawa male took a few more steps, the hummingbird lunged and pricked its snout with its beak. The male jakarawa barked in displeasure, but the bird did not abandon him and continued to hover right in front of his muzzle. Several times the lantana mango male pricked his opponent in the muzzle with his beak, and once delivered a prick with his beak dangerously close to the eye. The jakarawa male shakes his head, trying to save his eyes from the annoying tiny bird, but the hummingbird does not back down. After several minutes of defense, the lantana mango male managed to win: the jakarawa male went to the depth and dived, and the females with the cubs followed him obediently. The lantana mango male flew up above the water, watching the jakarawas moving at a shallow depth. When one of the females emerged to inhale air, the lantana mango male swooped down on her, forcing her to dive. Having escorted the uninvited guests in this way, the hummingbird male took off and headed towards the thickets of epiphytic plants to refresh himself with nectar.
The female laid the second egg, and the next day the third one. Some birds begin to incubate clutch after the third egg, but stronger birds have up to five eggs in clutch. In the oviduct of the female, the formation of another egg began; when it’s laid, she can begin to incubate the clutch.
A nest of hummingbirds takes a little time to build: it is an ephemeral structure that is required to maintain strength and elasticity for only a few weeks, while the birds incubate eggs and raise chicks. And the life of hummingbirds is also ephemeral – they reach puberty quickly and do not live for very long. By the time the large kurekure parrot becomes an adult, the hummingbird is already dying of old age – in the case when it manages to live to such an age.
Outside of nesting time, kurekure parrots love the company of relatives and fly through the forest in noisy flocks, but nest strictly in pairs. These birds are very sociable and intelligent; in creating their families a huge role is played by the personal attachment of these birds to each other, without which it is impossible to form a stable family. The basis of a successful family life is the presence of a good tree-trunk hollow in which it is possible to make a nest. This is, perhaps, the greatest difficulty in the family life of parrots: in the Neocene, in the South American selva there is a great demand for tree-trunk hollows. This is due to the introduction of honey bees to the continent in the historical era; these insects for millions of years competed successfully with birds for tree hollows. In Neocene, the situation remained almost the same: bees of several species occupy hollows of trees actively, and the birds must be working to provide themselves with housing. However, kurekure parrots found a way out of this situation.
The kurekure male “leks” in the forest canopy, vocalizing on the branch next to a small hollow. He found a suitable place for the nest and now calls the female with a loud voice. Hollows represent a scarce resource, and it took a long time to find a place for a nest. At first glance, this hollow is hardly suitable as a nest for a pair of large parrots – one bird can hardly fit in it. However, the female examines it anyway – she climbs into it entirely, but her tail remains sticking out. After her, the male climbed into the hollow. He is slightly larger than the female, and he barely managed to crawl back out in reverse. After that, his plumage turns out to be rumpled badly, and a pair of broken feathers sticks out of it. However, the birds do not feel like unlucky ones: they are very lucky to find this hollow. They met in the flock and have been together for a long time, and the tree-trunk hollow they had found takes their relationships to the new level, allowing both birds transferring their best qualities to the next generation of the species.
The calls of the kurekure male were addressed exclusively to this female, but not only she listens to them attentively. Other individuals in the flock listen to the voices of their kin to keep abreast of what is going on with the others, and some ones may even use this information to their advantage. While the kurekure pair examined the hollow, another kurekure, an adult male competitor, perched on the tree branch a little above the hollow. His plans are very far-reaching: a few weeks ago he lost his female that was killed by an illapa, and now he wants to both restore his status as a family breeding bird and get a hollow for nesting. For some time he hid among the branches, examined the hollow and assessed the strength of a couple of relatives, and then resolutely went on the offensive. He fluttered onto a tree trunk and climbed up to the hollow, clinging to tree bark with his claws. He is confident in his abilities, so he does not hide, and his aggression is directed mainly at the younger male, whom he regards as a rival. However, the stranger clearly overestimated his own strength and underestimated the unity of the pair of his congeners. Both birds of the pair, hissing like cats, and fluffing the feathers on their heads and bodies, began to advance on him. The lone male did not retreat, and was the first to attack the young male. The birds were flung together, flapping their wings and screaming, and the female, seizing the moment, began to tear the plumage of the stranger, and green fluffs began swirling in the air. While the males were fighting, she managed to grab the stranger’s feathers and cut off several feathers in half. As a result, the lone male shamefully fled, accompanied by the cries of both birds of the pair, which were echoed by relatives, who witnessed the trampling and restoration of justice. The kurekure pair tested the strength of family ties once again, and the victory over a stranger emboldened the birds even more.
The hollow found by the birds is too small for a nest, but this is not a problem for birds that have such strong beaks. The pair of parrots began to pick at the walls and bottom of the hollow, throwing out pieces of wood broken off by their beaks. The birds enter the hollow, replacing each other, and work on the hollow for several hours a day. While one bird is busy with construction work, the second one gathers food and feeds its mate in regular way. Such an exchange of food means a high degree of trust between the birds in a pair, and their nesting promises to be successful. Powerful beaks easily gouge out the wood, and soon the hollow will be of the proper size for making a nest.
It’s been about two weeks. The incubation of eggs by lantana mangoes has been completed successfully, and tiny helpless nestlings already squirm in the nest. They develop quickly and require a lot of food, so parents have to fly much more to provide them with food. After hatching, the chicks will live under the supervision of their parents for a total of about two weeks, rapidly developing and fledging. During all this time, parents will feed their offspring with protein-rich insects, adding nectar to the diet only later. When young hummingbirds leave the nest, nothing keeps their parents together, and they part to soon create a new family with another partner. Young birds will become sexually mature only after 4 months. This is very fast compared to large birds like the illapa, in which puberty occurs only at the age of four. At this age, even a long-lived hummingbird will already die of old age. Four months will pass quickly, but they still have to survive even up to this time. Tiny chicks have too many enemies – they can easily be eaten by other birds, arboreal frogs or rodents. And some of their enemies have a very unexpected appearance.
Lantana mango chicks are sitting in the nest. They are covered with bare pinkish skin through which blood vessels are seen, and on the head and back the skin is covered with numerous thin horny spikes – these are feathers that have not yet unfolded. In the wings, the feather germs are longer and slightly thicker. To save energy, the chicks sit almost motionless, and the nest made of fluff and cobwebs helps to reduce heat loss. Chicks activate only when parents with food appear. But no matter how inaccessible the nest may be, uninvited guests may appear in it.
A large butterfly with a thin, slender body and a metallic sheen on its wings landed on the edge of the nest. Its forewings are bright red, but from different angles of view, their color changes from purple to blue. Characteristic thin tails stick out on the hind wings. This butterfly has remarkable eyes – they are large, as if at dragonfly. And she keeps the front pair of legs in air, having folded the segments of the legs. This butterfly is an adult itotoptera, whose caterpillars turn into predators in the later stages of development. Butterfly wiggles its antennae to pick up scents around it. Hummingbird nestlings do not react to it: this creature is unfamiliar to them, and the only defensive reaction available to them is staying put. The butterfly as if watched the surroundings, turning its goggle-eyed head, and then it unfolded its long proboscis and stuck it into the body of the chick. The pointed chitinous tip easily cut through the skin of the chick, and the butterfly began to drink its blood. This kind of butterfly has an extremely unusual diet throughout its whole life cycle. Chicks rarely form food to the itotoptera, but it grabs small insects and sucks them dry.
Butterfly’s bloody feast was interrupted by the appearance of lantana mango female. The bird pounced on the butterfly, causing it to fly up, saving its fragile wings. It did not have time to do much harm to the chick, having drunk only a drop of its blood. The chick will not die, but it will have to eat better to compensate for the damage caused by the bloodthirsty butterfly. And the butterfly itself has to make breathtaking somersaults and turns in the air, escaping from the hummingbird female. Only take-off into the forest canopy saved the insect, and the hummingbird female returned to the nest and began to feed the chicks.
Large birds develop much slower, and as they grow they have to deal with other problems. In any case, an adult itotoptera butterfly does not threaten an illapa chick that has grown up to the size of an adult bird. The young Saguanmachika is already fully feathered, with fully formed flight feathers and tail. Gradually, he learned to fly and now often leaves the nest, trying to hunt in the forest canopy. So far, he is not good at hunting, but he has not yet got rid of parental care, so he will not remain hungry. His parents feed only him alone, and he develops normally, almost catching up with his father in size and weight. He has enough strength to fully fly, and Saguanmachika cultivates his hunting skills in games. He is training to fly from one tree to another, perching accurately on branches and lianas, or flies between trees, making sharp turns. He likes to frighten birds and monkeys, hiding among epiphytes, and then suddenly taking off from shelter and causing a real explosion of frightened screams of forest dwellers. But the most important and necessary games are those in which the skills of catching prey are refined.
Walking across the nest, Saguanmachika found a dried duck wing with the remains of plumage among the nest litter. This is not real prey, it is completely inedible, but for the game, such a find will do just fine. Grabbing the find with one paw, Saguanmachika rushed up, flapping his wings. He broke out of the forest canopy and soared up into the sky – where only a few of the forest birds go. He can look over the area for miles around – it is an almost continuous green carpet of the forest canopy, cut through in some places by ribbons of rivers and patches of lakes and swamps. Bright sunlight pours from the sky, and Saguanmachika’s pupils narrowed almost to points. It is unlikely that the duck, whose wing he holds in his paw, flew so high during its lifetime. At a height of several hundred meters above the forest canopy, he opened his paw and dropped the duck wing. It went down and Saguanmachika rushed after it and tried to catch it. He dived after his toy, deftly caught the duck’s wing in the air with one paw and soared up over the trees, flapping his wings. He does not hide, therefore, in response to his maneuver, loud bird cries – alarm signals – were heard from the forest canopy. Now Saguanmachika is not going to attack, so he does not pay attention to the bird commotion somewhere below. Clutching the duck’s wing in his claws, he soared into the sky again and threw his burden to catch it almost above the very crowns of the trees. The young feathered predator repeated his maneuver several times, but the last time the dead duck appeared to be more cunning – the wing fell into the crown of the tree, and from there fell into the undergrowth, where it was no longer possible to find it.
Having lost his toy, Saguanmachika descended into the forest canopy and perched on the branch. He is young and strong, and his body requires new exercises – in a matter of days, his connection with his parents will be broken completely, and by this time he should be able to provide himself with food independently. The best training in this case is an attempt to hunt on his own. Saguanmachika looks around the surroundings – vision helps him find suitable prey. Thanks to his sharp eyesight, he is able to discern even small birds scurrying among the foliage, although this prey is clearly too small for a feathered eagle-sized predator. On one tree, Saguanmachika noticed the body of a beast hanging under a branch. This is a suitable size prey, and it seems that the animal does not notice the hunter watching it.
The beast hung from a branch, having clung by paws with hooked claws, like a sloth of the human era. However, this one is unrelated to a sloth: in addition to its paws, a long tenacious tail, similar to a monkey’s one, is involved in its movement. The beast moves slowly, moving its paws alternately and securing itself with the help of its tail. With the help of long movable front paws, he gathers leaves and brings them to its mouth. When the beast opens its mouth, large incisors become noticeable – two in each jaw. And hard pointed quills grow in the wool on the sides of the beast, protecting the beast from enemies during unhurried walks at a dizzying height. This beast is a sidespiny porcupine, a distant relative of myriyutherium, which has chosen a different ecological niche in due course of evolution and is perfectly adapted to life in tree crones. Such a beast with great difficulty moves on the ground, where it appears purely by chance, but in the crowns of trees it finds everything it needs for life.
Sidespiny porcupine is a slow and phlegmatic herbivore. It has no reason to hurry – the leaves do not run away from under its muzzle. It doesn’t jump from one tree to another like monkeys, and it doesn’t have very good eyesight. Therefore, the beast does not notice the danger lurking among the foliage. Saguanmachika watched the sidespine for a while, and then took off and rushed at his prey. The predator swooped down on the sidespine from the air, stretching his paws forward with his claws at the ready. However, the predator made one mistake: he flaps his wings during the flight and flies on the prey too slowly. Sidespine has poor eyesight, but excellent hearing, and it heard the rustle of predator feathers in time. Its reaction is instantaneous: it immediately pulled itself under the branch and pressed its stomach against it, slipping almost out of the very claws of the predator. Saguanmachika flew under it, turned around in the air and perched on thebranch, under which the sidespine is hidden. He is not going to give up the prey, and has not yet exhausted the methods of attack he has in stock. Saguanmachika tried to get the beast from above – standing on one paw and stretching the other one, he tried to inflict a wound on the porcupine. In response to this, the sidespine growled and began to defend itself, waving its paw in the air. Standing on one leg, Saguanmachika recoiled so as not to be hit by the claws of the animal, and almost fell down. He flapped his wings, trying to stay on the branch, and at that moment the sidespiny porcupine fluttered its paw again – this time much more successfully. It managed to grab the feathered predator’s wing, scooped up some feathers and pulled the wing towards it. At this point, the roles of the pursuer and the pursued changed. Losing balance, Saguanmachika flapped his free wing and rushed sideways, trying to free himself. He was lucky: he escaped, leaving only a couple of feathers in the beast’s paw. His feathers hadn’t finished growing yet, so losing them was quite painful. But this is nothing compared to what pain the claws and teeth of the sidespine can cause, piercing the body, so Saguanmachika got off very easy. He learned a lesson important for a predator: prey can defend itself, so you need to kill it quickly and unexpectedly. Such lessons help the predator become more dexterous and prudent, but sometimes they can end in injury and even in death. This time the hunt failed, and Saguanmachika returned to the nest – perhaps any of his parents will still agree to feed him today. And tomorrow there will be a new day, and perhaps, young predator will succeed to hunt successfully.
The nest of illapa is a gigantic construction of thick branches and twigs that has been used by a pair of birds for many years in succession. Illapas have significant longevity, and the same nest can exist on a tree for several decades in a row, and even be inherited from one pair of birds to another. Unlike them, kurekure parrots do not use their nest for so long, although they put a lot of effort into its construction: the tree-trunk hollows they gnaw out in wood are in great demand among forest dwellers, and a pair of parrots is far from always able to repel uninvited guests out of their hollow. Sometimes the birds are met by a whole swarm of angry bees, which the kurekure has neither the strength nor the desire to resist.
The young kurekure family worked together to quickly deepen and widen the hollow to a suitable size, and the female began laying. She has already laid two eggs on a bed of wood dust. Then for a whole month the female will incubate the clutch, and the male will feed her with fruits, berries and nuts. When the chicks will hatch, both parents will feed them for more than two months before the young birds leave the nest. And even after that, young birds will require some care from adult birds before they become completely independent. And only after a few years, young birds will reach maturity and create their own families, if they can live up to this time. But kurekure has a very long age – an adult bird can live for several decades.
To give rise to a new generation of her species, the kurekure female must make a full clutch – she nneeds to lay one more egg, and only then she will begin incubation. In the meantime, parrots feed together and protect their territory from others, warning them of their territorial claims with loud rattling cries. The kurekure nest, located in a hollow at a height of several tens meters above the ground, is perfectly protected from many predators, but not from all.
The smell of fresh bird clutches simply irresistibly attracts one inhabitant of the forest canopy. It is a winged creature, so it feels at home in the forest canopy. It is able to fly several kilometers in search of its favorite food – bird eggs. And the shells of eggs may be easily opened by its strong sharp teeth. This inhabitant of the selva is a bat – forest broad-toothed bat. Unlike a huge number of chiropteran species, the forest broad-toothed bat flies during the daytime. Its flight is fast and very maneuverable – the animal is able to turn around in the air and change direction of the movement suddenly. This species has relatively large eyes, although the forest broad-toothed bat has good echolocation abilities. However, the most developed sense in this species is the sense of smell. The forest broad-toothed bat smells fresh eggs with liquid content from afar and can accurately distinguish them from eggs with an already developed embryo. Its dental system is greatly reduced – in each jaw, there are only two pairs of molars and one pair of very developed incisors.
The forest broad-toothed bat is a cautious and secretive creature. When approaching the nest, the bat tries to be as little visible as possible. The animal lands on a tree above or below the nest and crawls up to it, trying not to betray its presence. If a bird finds the broad-toothed bat, the bat cannot stand the fight: the claws and beak of the bird will easily tear the animal’s flying membrane – and this is sure death. Therefore, while the kurekure female climbed into the hollow and bustles about there, the bat hid next to the nest. Not far from the hollow where kurekure nests, an epiphytic orchid grows on the bark, stretching a whole “beard” of aerial roots in the air. The forest broad-toothed bat climbed under them and now sits motionlessly, disguised among the shadows of aerial roots. The pattern of the animal’s coat helps it to mask: a dark stripe stretches along the back, and some more spots are scattered on the sides. Therefore, an animal sitting motionlessly is almost impossible to distinguish from an exfoliated piece of bark. The specific diet has left an imprint on the behavioral features of this animal: the broad-toothed bat can wait a long time and choose the right moment to attack the bird clutch.
The kurekure female examined the clutch once again and climbed out of the nest. A new egg is developing in her oviduct; when she will lay it, the clutch will be complete, and incubation can begin. Having got out of the nest, the kurekure female took off. From somewhere in the forest, the male called her, and the female answered his call. She flew off to feed, confident that the clutch is safe. However, this is far from being the case: having felt that the bird had left the nest, the broad-toothed bat perked up, got out from under the orchid bush and quickly crawled into the hollow. To eat and to stay alive after that, it must act quickly. Clinging by the claws of its hind legs, the bat carefully descended into the hollow and crawled to the eggs lying on a bed of wood dust. Having sniffed the eggs, it was convinced that they are fresh, and incubation had not yet begun. The bat turned one of the eggs with the pointed end towards itself, opened its mouth wide and bit off the top of the egg with its blade-like incisors. A viscous egg white began to flow out of the hole, but the bat stuck into the egg its long tongue equipped with villi along the edges, and began to lick quickly the contents of the shell. If there were an embryo in the egg, this would be done with great difficulty; broad-toothed bat attacks clutches of already incubated eggs only under the threat of starvation. This species is an example of a very strict food specialization among bats: this feature allows it avoiding food competition with other bat species, but at the same time increases dependence on a single food source and limits the species range only to those areas where birds can nest all year round.
In the process of evolution, the broad-toothed bat adapted to eating bird eggs very quickly: in just a few minutes, the animal dealt with both eggs. Their liquid contents had been moved into an elastic stomach, and after a meal, the belly of the bat is greatly swollen. With such a burden, it is difficult for the animal to move: it crawls, rising on its wings, and looks like a big hairy spider. Clinging by its wings’ thumbs, the broad-toothed bat climbed up to the entrance to the hollow, hopped over the edge with difficulty and quickly crawled back to the shelter under the roots of the orchid.
Once safe, the broad-toothed bat began to prepare for flight. Being startled right now, it is unlikely to be able to fly for a long time: the content of its stomach is too heavy. In the process of evolution, this bat acquired the ability to quickly absorb large volumes of liquid food and process it skillfully. As soon as the bat hung in the shelter, water began to be urgently pumped out of its swollen stomach, and the content of the stomach gradually thickens into a paste-like mass. At the same time, the load on the kidneys increased: they began to remove excess water from the blood, quickly filling the bladder. A few minutes later, the bat emitted a portion of liquid urine, climbed out of the shelter and easily took off. The excess cargo is dropped, and only concentrated fresh food will be delivered to the colony. Fluttering its wings like a monstrous fluffy butterfly, the forest broad-toothed bat disappeared in the forest canopy – it hastens to return home.
Having returned from feeding, the female kurekure climbed into the hollow and saw that only empty shells remained of her eggs. Therefore, the last egg she will have to lay tonight is actually the first – but already in a new clutch. From two previous eggs, only the shells remained, which she ate immediately – the calcium carbonate contained in them will be used to the formation of the shell of new eggs. Now she will have to spend some more time to make a full clutch, and to begin hatching eggs about a week later. In tropical climates, where there are no distinct seasons, this delay is not significant.
The forest broad-toothed bat hurries home. This bat species has an excellent memory, and a map of the area is saved in its head, showing the location of the colony and numerous bird nests known to it. Getting food, the broad-toothed bat not only prowls at random, being guided by the smell of bird clutches, but also checks already known nests for the presence of fresh eggs. Now it was lucky: it sucked out two eggs of a large parrot at once, and this is a good booty. The bat makes its way to one of the disturbed areas of the forest on the river bank, where, among the broad-leaved pioneer vegetation, graceful crowns of palm trees with fanlike leaves rise on flexible trunks. These plants are among the pioneers to settle in areas of damaged forest cover, and they grow rapidly, finishing their lives before they are drowned out by trees of other species. The broad-toothed bat flew under one of the fanlike leaves, clung to it with its claws, and crawled towards its middle. Near the point of attachment of the leaf to the petiole, its veins are gnawed a little bit, so the edges of the leaf hang down like a tent. In the shade, under the cover of such leaves, several of its relatives hang upside down. The colony of broad-toothed bats under this leaf numbers several dozen individuals, but it is only full in the late afternoon. Now many of the members of the colony have flown off in search of food, but these individuals have already managed to return: they were not lucky to find food during the morning flight. Small animals have a very high metabolic rate, so starvation for a long time is fatal for them. A relative arriving with a full stomach is of interest to hungry individuals. One of the animals crawled up to a well-fed one hanging nearby, and began to lick its face and chin. This is a request for support, and instinct dictates not to leave it unattended. Each well-fed individual gathers food not only for itself, but for the entire colony. Bird eggs represent a scarce resource, so the exchange of food allows animals to survive. The beasts connected their lips in a kind of “kiss”, and the well-fed animal regurgitated part of its booty into the mouth of the hungry one – a concentrated paste from a mixture of egg yolk and white. Today, not all animals were lucky in the search for such specific food, and mutual assistance allows them to get a chance to survive. This is one of the many survival strategies in the selva.
… It’s been 3 years. Ajuricaba grew up, matured and began an independent life. He had already reached the size of an adult beast, and gradually mastered the hunting techniques used by his mother. This is enough not to starve to death, but the hunting technique will still have to be improved. Unlike Tisquesusa, Ajuricaba left his mother on time and without unnecessary emotions. As he grew older, his bond with his mother gradually weakened. He spent more and more time alone, and sometimes left his mother for a day or two to explore the territory or hunt a little on his own. At this time, another event happened that became the impetus for the beginning of his independent life: a few months before their separation, his mother went into heat, and she became pregnant. At the beginning of her pregnancy, her attitude towards Ajuricaba did not change: she still paid attention to him, shared prey, licked him after eating and let him sleep under her side. But the new cub grew in her womb, and she began to treat Ajuricaba differently: at first she did not let him approach the prey until she had eaten her part, and then she simply began to drive him away from herself, allowing only sleeping in the den, but away from her. Finally, one morning, his mother just beat him hard and expelled him out of the lair. The last thing Ajuricaba received from his mother was a fresh painful scar on his side. Thus a new stage in his life began – the youth, full of dangers and wandering through the jungle in search of food and his own territory. The fresh scar bleeds and hurts a lot, and Ajuricaba stops from time to time to lick the wound.
Ajurikaba’s life has completely changed: he has nowhere to go, nowhere to wait out the night, and now during the hunt he must rely only on his own strength. Several times he managed to catch some chickenfeed like small rodents, lizards and frogs, but such prey can only briefly drown out the hungry pain in the stomach. Large young jaguarete needs larger prey.
From the very morning, Ajuricaba wanders through the forest, sniffing and listening to sounds. He tries to locate prey using all his experience. A keen sense of smell helps Ajuricaba to detect the presence of possible prey even in dense thickets. While Ajuricaba is still in his mother’s territory, where he knows all the paths and places for setting up ambushes. Along one of the paths, he came to the bank of a wide forest river – one of the many tributaries of the Amazon and Hippolyta river systems. Broad-leaved grasses grow here, and it is possible to find many places to set up an ambush. There are many animal trails descending to the river, and here you can meet terrestrial inhabitants who come to the watering place, as well as river inhabitants who come out to graze on the shore. He feels a smells of the old barocavia dung: a herd of these animals came ashore to graze a few days ago. However, an adult barocavia is a dangerous rival even for an adult jaguarete, and a young beast would hardly prey on even a cub of this monstrous rodent: parents guard their posterity ferociously, and they are able to trample down to the ground anybody who would dare to hunt their cubs and would appear insufficiently fast or careful.
In addition to barocavias, other animals can be found on the riverbanks. Aquaguanas bask on a tree trunk that has fallen into the water – these are large water lizards. They are herbivores, but their tails are terrible weapons capable of inflicting strong blows. The meat of aquaguana is delicate, but it will not be possible to get one of the reptiles unnoticed: to do it, it is needed to go to an open place where they will notice the danger and hide in the water. Ajuricaba can swim and has already survived three floods, but prefers not to get into the water unless absolutely necessary. But on the shore, among the thickets of marsh grasses, a herd of small herbivorous mammals – jakarawas – grazes. The barocavias have eaten the swamp plants when they have reached their full size, and from the rhizomes left in the soil young shoots grow – for the sake of them the jakarawas came here. The herd of these rodents consists of the large, old, experienced male, three of his females and their cubs. The oldest female has been living with this male for seven years, and the youngest one joined his harem only three years ago and has already brought a young “heritor” to the patriarch. Striped-skinned cubs frolic around adults, occasionally tasting the food that they nibble. The adult animals are busy feeding, and only occasionally raise their heads and look around. They rely on hearing: by the voices of forest animals, they determine the appearance of danger.
Ajuricaba watches the herd from hiding. He is very hungry, but the experience gained during his life with his mother teaches him to be patient. He watches the jakarawa herd, keeping still, and the foliage hides from the curious glances of the forest inhabitants his bright skin, red with ring-shaped black spots. Only the tip of the predator’s tail twitches, betraying his excitement. Since he left his mother, he has managed to eat only a few small animals, and this is his first independent hunt for larger game.
His first independent hunt almost ended in failure. It turned out that he is not yet a very experienced hunter, because he did not take into account the direction of the wind. The old jakarawa male, who is always on the alert, took some steps away from the herd and felt his smell. Flaring his nostrils, he gave a loud signal of danger and rushed towards the water. His entire family obediently took to their heels, not even understanding what he smelled. Ajuricaba rushed after them, more by chance than by any definite plan of action. However, he was lucky all the same: the smallest jakarawa cub, while running, stumbled upon a snag hidden among the silt and sprained its leg. The female ran a little ahead and did not have time to protect her cub. With a few quick soft leaps, Ajuricaba overtook the baby jakarawa, grabbed it by the throat with his teeth, shook and began to choke it. A few convulsive movements – and the body of a jakarawa cub dangled lifelessly in his teeth. Turning around, Ajuricaba dragged his first significant prey into the thicket. This, of course, is not the heaviest lunch in his life – the jakarawa cub is too small, and the predator will satisfy his hunger for only a few hours. Another thing is important – Ajuricaba passed the test as a lone hunter, although his success was more of an accident.
The family of jakarawas, frightened by Ajuricaba, swam across the river and found themselves about two hundred meters from the scene of the tragedy. The animals calmed down a bit, looking at the spotted predator that remained on the other side. And only a young female, who has lost her cub, pitifully calls for the baby, but he will never respond. It took about an hour before she stopped her vain calls and realized that she would never see her cub again.
Hiding in the thickets, Ajuricaba feasts. He tears apart the thin skin of the jakarawa cub with his teeth and greedily devours pieces of still warm delicate meat. He swallows it along with bones and wool – he will soon regurgitate the undigested remains. Hunting with his mother was more successful, but during her pregnancy she began to eat more and more meat, leaving for Ajuricaba only scraps that barely satisfied his hunger. Now no one will dare to take away his lawful booty from him – it belongs only to him.
Mastering an independent life, Ajuricaba tries various ways of hunting. Part of the skills he received in childhood while playing with half-dead prey, which was brought to him by his mother or during a joint hunt with his mother, when he had already grown enough and got stronger. But he will have to learn a lot from his own experience. And hunger turns out to be a better teacher for a predator than even his own mother – it teaches him to hide better, sneak quieter and kill faster. And the hungry beast also tries to hunt even such animals that the mother never brought.
Passionflower vine tangles around a tree. In human epoch, the ancestor of this species was a fragile plant with thin climbing stems. Its descendant of the Neocene epoch has changed a lot: it is a large perennial liana with a thick woody trunk, easily growing from the ground to the forest canopy. Among the palmatisect leaves large bright flowers blossom, each of them living for one day only. Their bunches are amazingly beautiful and visible from afar. During their short life, the flowers must be pollinated, so they attract insects and birds with their bright petals. A variety of butterflies circle around the passionflower flowers, and hummingbirds and solitary wasps of various species flash with a metallic sheen in the rays of sunlight. Other plant species turn their flowers into clever traps for pollinators, but passionflower has taken a different way, and its widely opened flowers regale with nectar even the most generalist pollinators – in this case, the probability of at least casual carrying of pollen from one flower to another increases.
Tarukuwa ants crawl on the stems and leaves of this plant. Giant passionflowers represent an inexhaustible source of food for them. In the thickets of polomiki lantana, tarukuwa ants seek out colonies of pokopoko treehoppers and gather their sweet secretions, but here they do not need an intermediary: numerous extrafloral nectaries on leaf petioles produce in abundance the sugary secretions edible for ants. Tarukuwa ants harvest them alongside with examining the leaves of the plant, where they catch and eat the larvae of insects that harm passiflora vine.
Itotoptera butterflies fly above the large flowers of passionflower, sparkling with their wings in the sun rays. They are also attracted by passionflower flowers, but by no means by their nectar: because of it, small insects land on flowers, which are attacked by adult itotopteras. An adult butterfly of this species is a predator, but rather unspecialized. While not comparable in killing skills to praying mantises, it also grasps small prey with its modified forelegs and holds it while sucking it out with its proboscis. Itotoptera is an enemy of various butterflies, with which it can be compared in flight speed, and other insects with relatively soft body covers. It easily sucks out large aphids, mealybugs and other inactive insects with soft body covers, but avoids attacking bees and wasps armed with sharp stings. It is a specialized butterfly species, but not too effective as a predator, because it uses only a limited range of prey items.
In a tropical climate, passionflower blooms and bears fruit all year round. Among the foliage, large berries ripen, attracting herbivorous vertebrates of the forest canopy. Monkeys, marsupials, rodents, as well as parrots and other birds – they all feed on the juicy fruits of passionflower and spread its seeds around the neighborhood. Many of them eat the fruits of the plant right in the forest canopy, but a significant part of the fruits overripe and fall to the ground. Forest dwellers are well aware of this, and often descend into the undergrowth in search of fruits. There is one tempting property in these fallen fruits: the juice in them is partly fermented by yeast, so they contain a small amount of alcohol. And this circumstance attracts a flock of kurekure parrots to the undergrowth. Screaming and quarreling with each other, birds roam the ground and eat fallen overripe passiflora fruits. Several kurekures climb through the leaves of the vine in the forest canopy, and their careless movements cause overripe fruits to fall. As they plop down on the ground, the nearby parrots growl in alarm, but quickly calm down, convinced that it is only a fruit.
A small amount of alcohol in overripe fruits makes the parrots a little less cautious, so they do not notice how Ajuricaba creeps very carefully through the thickets towards them. He hasn’t eaten anything bigger than a mouse in two days, and now he’s so hungry that he’s ready to eat anything. A large parrot could be a good snack, so Ajuricaba decided to get at least one bird from the flock. His spotted coat does not stand out among the vegetation of the undergrowth, and Ajuricaba sneaks cautiously towards the feasting parrots.
The cries of alarm of the parrots were suddenly heard – none of them could have noticed Ajuricaba hiding in the bushes. Everything happened swiftly and unexpectedly: a huge shadow swept right over the ground, a loud cry of a captured parrot was heard and colorful feathers flew. Parrots had been frightened off by Saguanmachika – he also watched this flock from a hiding place among the vines, and at the right moment grabbed one of the largest birds. One of the birds, screaming loudly, rushed towards the hidden Ajuricaba, and he almost unconsciously jumped up two meters, knocked it down with one blow of his paw, pressed by his paw against the ground and tore off its head. Other birds flew off screaming in different directions, but both predators got prey, and it makes no sense for them to continue hunting. A massive jaguarete rarely shows such agility, but now Ajuricaba is hungry, so he dared to make such jump, and his attempt had been rewarded in full degree.
Ajuricaba ate the parrot with pleasure – the meat of the bird is warm and delicate. Nevertheless, the hunger had not receded anyway – in order not to suffer from hunger, the predator must eat at least ten kilograms of meat in one sitting. In addition, feathers make eating such prey inconvenient: along with the meat, Ajuricaba swallowed a lot of inedible feathers. However, he ate the parrot almost entirely, leaving only bony legs and wings. He even gnawed the bird’s skull and ate the brain. Hunger no longer cuts the stomach, but this is not enough, so Ajuricaba continues to search for food. He went out to the river again and walked along the bank, trying to look for bigger fish in the river, or some other large prey. He saw aquaguanas basking on the shore, but the reptiles noticed him in time and rushed into the water, where it would be much more difficult for Ajuricaba to catch them.
The places Ajuricaba roams are unfamiliar to him. He has already left his mother’s territory and now keeps to the border “free lands”, which are new to him. Half an hour later, he was lucky to find an almost dried up small pond, which was connected to the river bed during the overflow. Ajuricaba carefully descended to the water, stepping on wet clay soil, and noticed a half-meter long fish near the shore. Noticing him, the fish swam away from the shore, but the size of this pond was too small for it to take refuge in the depths. Therefore, Ajuricaba entered the water and nevertheless managed to get a fish: with one precise movement of his paw, he threw it ashore, killed it with another blow of his paw, and began to eat it greedily right with the bones. After the meal of the predator, only a large bony head with toothy jaws remained from the fish.
Young Ajuricaba, after he left his mother, needs to conquer his hunting territory. His species is the top predator in the ecosystem, and each member of the species needs a vast feeding area. Now Ajuricaba is going through hard times: he is starving and forced to eat any random prey. During the day he manages to eat several small animals, but this only allows him not to die of hunger. He is forced to hunt in unfamiliar “free lands” that separate the possessions of adult relatives, and he does not have a permanent lair. However, Ajuricaba instinctively seeks to win back suitable territory for living. He just needs to act more decisively.
After several days of wandering, Ajuricaba invaded the territory of a large adult female. He did not meet with the mistress of the territory directly, but he smelled the scent of her marks. Ajuricaba sniffed the trees and found the markings of this individual, old and not updated for a long time. This circumstance finally tipped the scales in favor of the decision to invade, and he decided to act openly and straightforwardly. To begin with, Ajuricaba marked the border of the territory with his own scent, urinating profusely over the marks of the female. Sniffing his own fresh marks, he began walking around the area. This area seemed to him very good for hunting: Ajuricaba constantly finds trails and tracks of various animals, and among them there are many those that his mother hunted. When he feels the smells, images of animals come to his mind and he remembers the taste of their meat. Near the river, Ajuricaba found traces of jakarawas – here they are very numerous, in several family groups. He sniffs at the footprints on the river bank, inhaling the smell of these creatures with pleasure. He loved jakarawa meat when he was a cub, and his mother often dragged these rodents after hunting. After being banished from his mother’s territory, he rarely was able to eat this delicious meat, and here he feelt the smell of a whole herd. In it, he clearly distinguishes the smells of adults and young animals, and they are fresh – the herd is somewhere nearby. Suddenly, somewhere in the thickets of reeds, a splash was heard, and Ajuricaba froze. Then he softly hopped into the thickets and began to watch.
Ajuricaba was not mistaken: the jakarawas came ashore in a whole herd – a male, several adult females and cubs of various ages with striped skins. The beasts feed by browsing coastal vegetation. The wind blows away from them towards Ajuricaba, and he carefully sneaks up on them. A couple more meters creepingly, and it will be possible to attack.
... The blow to the side was very strong – Ajuricaba fell to his side and howled in pain, and a large adult female with bared teeth stood above him. The mistress of the territory accepted the challenge and came to punish the stranger. Hearing predators fighting in the bushes, the jakarawas rushed away, uttering alarm cries, and disappeared into the water. However, the female owner of the territory is not worried about a failed hunt. Now the main thing for her is to confirm her right to the territory and drive away the impudent and rather strong stranger. The prey comes and goes, and another time, sooner or later, its hunt will be successful, but she cannot afford to lose her hunting territory – along with it, she can lose all the prey that is found there, which is much worse than one accidental failure.
The female rushed at Ajuricaba again – it seemed to her that he rose to his paws too slowly and was in no hurry to run away. With a blow of her paw, she tore the skin on his back, leaving three deep parallel scars from her claws. Instincts forbid these predators to injure the congener opponent in the head, but even the blows of the claws of this female on the back and sides are very painful: she is larger and stronger than Ajuricaba. And the increased aggressiveness of this female is explained by the fact that her offspring are growing up in her den, and she will not tolerate the presence of a stranger even on the border of her hunting territory. Therefore, the marks on the border territory were old – the female does not go far from the lair. Several marks left by Ajuricaba in the depths of her territory forced her to come out specifically to search for and expel an impudent stranger, and she managed to do it quite fast.
Ajuricaba fled from the territory of the female, despite the pain from his wounds. His back is wounded, and several deep scratches bleed and hurt a lot when the beast makes sudden movements. He managed to find a secluded place in the bush, and he lies low for several days while the wound heals. The wound itself is not dangerous, and Ajuricaba licks it, cleaning of fouling, but the feeling of hunger is great. On the second day after the injury, he managed to catch a lizard, but it was given to him at the cost of great effort – he hunted, overcoming back pain. During the hunt, the wound opened and began to bleed, so Ajuricaba had to lick it. He hardly managed to make a jump, killed the lizard and ate it along with the bones. This prey briefly satisfied his hunger, but after a few hours the feeling of hunger again made itself felt. For several days, Ajuricaba sleeps for a long time – so he feels less hungry. In his dreams, fragments of memories come to him, and the paws of the sleeping beast twitch a little – Ajuricaba dreams of successful hunts and a plentiful feast after them.
The forest canopy, like undergrowth, is divided into many individual territories, and the largest among them belong to the illapas. It is impossible to draw clear boundaries here, and the owners of the territories make overflights of their possessions and indicate their territorial claims with loud calls. A large young illapa female hunts in the territory belonging to the male Saguanmachika. She managed to catch a small monkey, and she perched on the branch of a tall tree and began to butcher her prey, peeling off shreds of skin and tearing off the meat.
Saguanmachika regularly circles his own territory. Unlike Ajuricaba, he managed to find a place suitable for living rather soon, and now he is ready to drive away any stranger who decides to encroach on his right to own this territory. Keen eyesight allows him to notice the intruder easily, and his sharp beak and pointed claws have already helped him to stop attempts to expel him from the inhabited territory for several times.
From afar, he noticed the congener hunting in his territory, and flew to restore his ownership. He noticed in which part of the forest the intruder had attacked its prey, and he flied up higher to cover as much territory as possible. In one of the trees, he noticed the intruder eating a monkey, and circled over it, descending gradually. Saguanmachika quickly noticed that a female appeared in his territory and perched on a nearby tree. The female also noticed him: she opened her wings, displaying herself, and covered her prey with them, as if trying to hide it from the owner of the territory. In fact, she shows the determination to protect her prey, and Saguanmachika has to be more careful if he wants to get to know her better. In illapa, the female is larger than the male, and may mistake the careless approach of Saguanmachika for an encroachment on her prey. Such a misunderstanding can lead to a conflict with unpredictable consequences for both sides. Therefore, Saguanmachika does not fly from his tree and patiently waits for the female to finish feeding.
The female is a subject of interest for Saguanmachika. She is young and may soon be ready to breed. Saguanmachika himself has already reached puberty, and this explains his interest in the female. If their meeting had taken place six months earlier, he would have tried to drive the female away, and even fight with her. However, now he treats her completely differently, and this is in the order of things for him. He did not banish the female from his territory, but simply took off from the tree and flied about his business.
In large birds of prey, aggressive and armed with sharp beaks and claws, the process of bringing together future breeding partners takes a very long time and is gradual. They should at least get used to each other’s presence, and only after a while they can try to establish closer contacts. Saguanmachika took up courtship in earnest. In the morning he managed to get a kurekure parrot once again. With prey in his claws, he flew up over the forest canopy and made several circles over his territory. He noticed the female flying over the trees in search of prey. This is just the right moment to try to move on to a closer relationship. Having flown higher, Saguanmachika flew over the female, unclenched his claws and dropped his prey to her. The female had taken in the situation immediately – she rushed forward and with a deft flung with a coup picked up the dead parrot. Having gained the prey, she perched on a tree and began to tear the feathers on the prey. Saguanmachika perched on a nearby branch, and the female looked at him appraisingly. She spread her wings, as if protecting her prey, but Saguanmachika noticed a certain formality in this movement. The female is still wary of him, so Saguanmachika is in no hurry to get close to her. Now she simply does not fly away from his territory, and that is enough for him.
Gradually, the birds become closer to each other. The female shows less aggression when Saguanmachika is around and willingly accepts his gifts. A few days after they met, the female no longer showed aggression when Saguanmachika perched on the same tree where she ate another prey. And one day came, when Saguanmachika dared to preen the plumage on the head of this female. She didn’t mind.
Ajuricaba wandered for a long time in the border areas. The wound got from the female has healed, and it actually does not hurt anymore – only thin strips of bare, hairless skin remained in place of the scars. The meeting with this female has become another lesson for Ajuricaba: now he behaves much more carefully, does not leave signs of his presence and tries not to provoke the owner of the territory into a conflict. Intruding the alien territory, Ajuricaba tries to bury his droppings and urine, sniffs out traces of the owner of the territory, watches it and tries to get to know it better. For several times, Ajuricaba failed – the rivals were clearly stronger, and he tried to leave their possessions, avoiding their aggression. He does not need extra wounds – they deprive him of the ability to hunt normally for too long.
Within about two weeks of searching, Ajuricaba walked around the territories of almost all the animals that lived right next to his mother. Finding no way to conquer the territory of any of them, he began to inspect the lands, previously completely unfamiliar to him – along the outer edge of the possessions of his mother’s neighbors. He carefully sniffed the marks of his kindred at the borders of the territories, trying to extract as much information as possible from their scent. He met the scent marks of a strong adult male, a female in estrus, a young mature male a little older than Ajuricaba himself, and of several other animals, the meeting with which did not bode well for him. And one of the smells seemed very promising to him. It is a faint smell of a male, of already quite old one – a smell that has not been renewed for a long time. It tells Ajuricaba that the owner of this hunting area rarely claims his rights to the territory, so it is possible to attempt to conquer its possessions.
Ajuricaba acts covertly. He entered the territory of the old male and walked along it, assessing its quality. He noticed many tracks of herbivorous animals, he saw several myriyutherium porcupines, and once frightened a herd of jakarawas, unexpectedly coming straight at them from the thickets. In the end, he found the footprints of the owner of the territory and followed them. Ajuricaba is a good tracker, and it was not difficult for him to track down the owner of the territory – the male, who inspired fear in the neighbors in his best years. Hidden in the bushes, Ajuricaba watches him. This male is clearly in the decline of his power. He was a perfect fighter, and many signs of overgrown scars are seen in his fur. His ears are torn, and half of one ear was completely bitten off by someone. Wool is already getting a light shade – gray hairs appear in it. And the gait of the beast already lacks the confidence inherent of the animal in its full strength. Ajuricaba watched the owner of the territory for a bit and began to act. He went to neutral territory and began to destroy the smell of this male wherever he met it. He buries the marks of the old male and puts his own marks with urine atop of them. Where the old male marked the tree trunk with his urine, Ajuricaba puts his scent mark higher and more abundantly, and then peels off the bark above the mark with his claws. These are obvious challenges, and Ajuricaba is preparing for the most important thing – for a direct meeting with the owner of the territory. He gradually increases the number of signs of his presence, and during the inspection of his marks, he finds the old male’s fresh marks far from everywhere.
The last battle for territory happened unexpectedly for both sides. Ajuricaba was walking around the territory of the old male along the bank of one of the forest rivers when he suddenly smelled the fresh blood of a jakarawa. There are usually numerous small predators in the territory of the jaguarete, and when meeting with them, the jaguarete often uses the right of the strong and takes away their prey. Ajuricaba is hungry, and has successfully performed this technique more than once. So he began to search for the source of this smell. However, he found something more – the owner of the territory himself, the old jaguarete devouring a recently killed jakarawa. Ajuricaba did not hide: he went out to the owner of the territory openly, growling and whipping his tail from side to side. The old male growled in response, and Ajuricaba saw that two of his fangs were broken and some of his teeth were missing. Ajurikaba took a few steps towards the jakarawa carcass, then turned his back to the nearest tree and urinated, claiming territory. His scent was well known to the old beast, and he took a couple of steps towards the challenger. But it is clear that he is not confident in his abilities: the old male hesitates, tries to impress, but is not ready to back it up with actions. Therefore, Ajuricaba immediately went ahead, jumping on the old male, and struck him with a paw in the shoulder. Red blood appeared on the old feline’s skin, and his roar turned into a howl of pain. He took a step back, and Ajuricaba began to advance on him, trying to deliver another blow, first with one paw, then with the other one. He managed to severely scratch the old male’s paw, and he began to push him away, driving him from the jakarawa carcass. Ajuricaba senses the weakness of the old beast, so he launches an offensive, preventing the old male from gathering his strength and fighting back. The old feline’s determination has vanished: he no longer intimidates Ajuricaba, but simply snaps back, retreating gradually. It is already obvious: he is losing the duel. From the scratches on his skin, blood flows, soaking the wool, and he is clearly not able to fight back against Ajuricaba, the young and strong male.
The result of the fight was predictable: the old male left the half-eaten jacarava carcass and retreated. In fact, he lost not only his prey – there were already too many scent marks left by Ajuricaba on his territory. Having defeated the old male, Ajuricaba began to greedily eat the carcass of the jakarawa, which had been killed by the already former owner of the territory. He feels like a winner and has just secured a great future for himself in the coming years. He does not pursue the departing old male and he does not care what happens to him – let him survive as best he can. If he appears on the territory now belonging to Ajuricaba, there will be a fight in which he can lose not only health, but also life.
The basin of the great rivers of South America is a place where forest and river complement each other, forming unique habitats rich in life. Here, terrestrial animals often forage near or in water, semi-aquatic animals feed on land, and even the permanent inhabitants of the river receive their share of the riches of the forest.
Jakarawas are very fond of feeding on polomiki lantana berries, although this plant prefers to grow away from water, in places not inundated by the river during floods. For the sake of berries, jakarawas can make risky forays into the forest. A herd of these rodents moves along the path leading to the lantana thickets. Such paths are most often laid by myriyutherians, for which polomiki lantana is one of the important food resources. The male leading the herd knows the way to the lantana thickets – he has already used it many times. In dense undergrowth, he is guided mainly by the smell that this plant spreads. The forest is alien to these rodents, although their ancestors lived there. Far from the saving river, jakarawas keep very carefully: they constantly listen to the sounds of the forest, look around and sniff the air. When danger appears, they will not be able to hide in the water, and they will have to rely only on their running speed. The graceful physique and long legs allow these animals to develop high speed, but they are not able to run for very long – in their usual environment, they would prefer to dive into the water as quickly as possible.
Soon a herd of jakarawas reached the thickets of lantana, and the animals began to eat fruits from the bushes. Some beasts prefer to pick the ripest fruits from the ground, others prefer ripen purple fruits still hanging on the branches. However, not everything that looks like the ripe fruit of this plant is the fruit.
In nature, not a single species of living organisms lacks the parasites and symbionts. Even polomiki lantana, whose tissues are laced with poison, is the host of several fungi species. A special kind of yeast is responsible for the accumulation of alcohol in the fallen fruits of the plant; rust fungi settle on living tissues, and hyphae of the parasitic lantana false fruit fungus grow in the loose tissue in the core of the plant stem. This fungus parasitizes in the tissues of the shoots of the plant almost imperceptibly, causing only some dwarfing and lag in the growth of the shoots of the host plant. Flowers also bloom on these shoots and fruits ripen, and a visible manifestation of the harm of this fungus to the plant is the lower yield of the affected shoot – more ovaries fall from it and fewer fruits ripen. However, animals still find something to eat on these branches. In some places of the stem, the mycelium of the lantana false fruit fungus grows through the tissues of the shoot of the host plant, forming nodules under the bark. In these places, the bark bursts, and bubble-shaped fruiting bodies on stalks, containing a loose spore-bearing mass inside, appear from the cracks. They gradually increase in size, acquiring an elastic texture and purple color. The mature fruit body accumulates a significant amount of sugar and becomes as tasty as the real fruits of the plant. The fruiting bodies of the false fruit fungus mimic the fruits of the polomiki lantana so skillfully that the animals, it seems, practically do not distinguish them.
When jakarawa or myriyutherians eat the fruiting bodies of the lantana false fruit fungus, their gastric juice partially dissolves the shell of the spores of the fungus, contributing to their germination. Animal’s droppings that have fallen on soil pierced with polomiki lantana roots provide an excellent medium for spore germination. If it is myrieutherium droppings, then it is more likely to appear somewhere in the thickets of lantana, and the germinating mycelium of the fungus easily finds the roots of the host plant. Jakarawas, after feeding on lantana fruits, go far from the thickets, and the spores of the fungus germinating from their droppings most likely will not find a suitable host.
While the jakarawas were feasting on the fruits, they lost their usual natural caution. The animals looked around less, and the rustle of lantana leaves did not allow them to hear the sounds of the forest. Therefore, the appearance of a large beast, similar to a small bear, the omnivorous macrokupara, was a big surprise for them.
An old jakarawa male sensed the danger in time – he noticed the animal hiding in the thickets and gave a warning signal to the whole family. Hearing it, the females with cubs quickly ran away, making high jumps. The head of the herd was left alone with the enemy. Jacarawas are in the environment unusual for them, so the male has to fight with a predator, although near a reservoir he would most likely just jump into the water and would not risk his life. But now he must by all means stop the predator. Macrokupara is not remarkable in deadly speed, like a jaguarete, but compensates for slowness with significant physical strength. In stock at the jakarawa, there is one effective defensive technique that these animals use during a fight with a predator of this kind. The jakarawa male reared up to look larger, and made several springy jumps on his hind legs towards the macrokupara, trying to hit the unexpected opponent with a hoof in the muzzle. The macrokupara roared and reared up on its hind legs, flailing its clawed forepaws. The jakarawa male avoided several times the blows of the macrokupara’s claws with deft jumps, and then with one precise jump reached the target, struck a blow with his hard hoof-like claw of the front leg in the predator’s nose and jumped aside. Macrokupara roared in pain, and its nose bled. While it was rubbing its nose to relieve the pain, the jakarawas escaped safely, and the myriyutherians who witnessed the incident began to rear up one by one on their hind legs, preparing to defend themselves. But these precautions were unnecessary: the macrocoupara no longer continues the attack, but simply went to pick the berries from the bush, scratching its bleeding nose with its paw from time to time.
When the macrokupara walked away from the thickets, it became obvious that it was not up to it to compete in speed with the jakarawas. It limps, and scars are visible on its hind leg, overgrown with bare, hairless skin. This beast suffered many years ago during a meeting with Tisquesusa’s mother. He also fed on berries, but, feeling the smell of jakarawa cubs, it wanted to get fresh meat. The attack attempt was pure improvisation – because of the lameness, this beast has long been unable to hunt to the utmost, and is content with only random prey and carrion. A highly specialized predator with such wounds might not survive, but the macrokupara is omnivorous, so it compensates for the inability to hunt with a varied diet.
On this day, the macrokupara did not have a chance to eat young meat, but he did not remain hungry. Plant foods and small prey like reptiles and rodents help the beast keep a good shape. Despite the lameness, the macrocoupara wanders through the forest for a long time. It walks around its territory along a long route, and keeps in its mind a map of the area containing information about the sources and types of food. It is omnivorous, and therefore its thinking is different from the thinking of pure predators and herbivores. Its brain is geared towards solving a variety of tasks and the development of various sources of food and ways to get it.
Walking around the edge of its territory, the lame macrokupara stumbled upon the fresh remains of a jakarawa. He sniffed at the corpse, on which the soft tissues of the legs and belly were eaten, but there were still a lot of edible parts left. These are the remains of the prey of Ajuricaba – a specialized meat-eater. The big cat ate a lot, but not everything that can be eaten and digested. The sharp cutting teeth of a cat are suitable for cutting soft tissue, so Ajuricaba paid attention to those parts of the carcass where there was a greater amount of soft tissue. He could not gnaw the spine and chest of the prey – in this case, it is possible to break teeth accidentally. But for the macrokupara, there is a lot of edible matter left on this carcass. The crushing tuberculate teeth of this animal easily deal with the soft heads of bones, crush joints and grind cartilage. The lame macrokupara gnaws with appetite at the bones of the remains of Ajuricaba’s prey. In the end, with one seizing of its jaws, it cracked open the skull of the jakarawa and licked the brain out of it. The strength of the jaguarete’s teeth is not enough to repeat this trick, and for the omnivorous macrokupara, it is not a novelty to finish eating the hardly edible remains of someone else’s prey. Let him not know how to kill as cleverly as cats, and it is a cripple at all, but it is able to find food where others fail to do it.
Having finished eating, the macrokupara sniffed the ground. It smelled the faint scent of Ajuricaba’s footprints – expressed enough to stick to it. Without hesitation, the lame macrokupara followed this trail. After its feast, only a gnawed spine, several large bones with chewed heads, and scraps of skin remained from the remnants of the jaguarete’s prey. Every more or less edible matter was eaten by the beast.
The lame macrokupara does not pursue Ajuricaba all the time. It follows approximately the same route as the jaguarete male, but constantly deviates in various directions to search for plant foods. It is afraid of the jaguarete – this predator is able to maim it, and even kill it. Therefore, the macrokupara constantly keeps a respectful distance so as not to cause aggression of the cat, but to be the first to find the remnants of Ajuricaba’s prey. In addition, it is omnivorous, and it is important for it to diversify its diet with vegetable and other foods – it does not depend strictly on the hunting success of Ajuricaba, but willingly diversifies its diet with fresh meat from the cat’s table.
Thickets of polomiki lantana can be found in various places of the selva, including the new territory of Ajuricaba. Whenever a site appears in the selva occupied by a plant community relatively poor in species composition, a standard set of symbiotic species – other plants, as well as fungi and animals – is formed around it. Therefore, in the thickets of polomiki lantana, it is always possible to find deformed stunted shoots on which colonies of pokopoko treehoppers feed. And the well-being of these insects is impossible without the round-the-clock care of at least two species of insects – tapiyukan wasps during the day and tarukuwa ants at night.
On a tree not far from the thickets of polomiki lantana, a nest of tapiyukan wasps was built. This huge structure resembles a bunch of grapes or an inverted spruce and is attached under a large branch of a tree; the nest consists of several tiers of combs made of paper pulp, which the wasps produced themselves by chewing the plant mass and gluing it with saliva. In conditions of regular rains, this choice of the material for the nest seems strange, but wasps build such nests for millions of years, and they successfully serve the needs of the colony. During the construction of the nest, wasps add substances to the paper pulp that give the material the desired properties. The umbrella-shaped roof of the nest, although made of paper, perfectly protects it from water even in the rainy season. To protect against getting wet, it is generously impregnated with plant wax, which the wasps scrape off the leaves and fruits of the plants around. As long as there is no rain, worker wasps diligently apply wax to the top of the roof, layer by layer, while repairing and building up the edges of the roof. In the rain, water drops roll down the waxed surface without wetting it. The outer walls of the nest are also impregnated with wax, protecting the colony from rain and wind. Several successively decreasing tiers of combs hang under the roof. They are all built around the strong, fiber-reinforced central stem of the nest. This is the axis that determines the symmetry of the nest and carries the main load. Under the very roof, in the upper tier of combs, one of the queens lives – the founder of the nest and the oldest individual of the colony, which is zealously protected by working individuals. Other queens occupy sequentially the lower tiers of the colony. Each of the queens lays eggs only on its own layer of combs, although worker wasps can transfer the egg of any queen to the combs of another layer if development conditions seem unfavorable to them. The middle stalk of the nest is the main support for all tiers, but as the nest expands, the wasps attach several auxiliary stalks reinforced with plant fibers along the edges of the combs.
Every day, worker wasps scurry between the lantana thickets and the nest, bringing the nectar of the plant and the sweet honeydew of the warded pokopokos to the nest. Some wasps are busy with a more responsible occupation – they are hunters who get food for larvae – small insects with soft body covers. A lot of wasps are on duty on the roof of the nest – these are old individuals who already have little strength for long flights to lantana thickets, but the sting is still pointed enough to discourage predators to profit from nutritious larvae. Ants are especially often engaged in robbery, and there should be enough guards on the roof of the wasp nest, ready to rush into battle and sacrifice themselves in the name of the prosperity of the colony. However, it often happens that the dedication of all the members of the colony cannot save it from death.
Wandering around the territory of Ajuricaba, the lame macrokupara noticed the wasp nest in a tree. The beast has already destroyed many insect nests, and it knows that the wasp nest is a whole warehouse of treats, guarded by many insects that have pointed stings. Wool and thick skin protect it from the attacks of adult wasps, and in the cells of paper combs a delicacy awaits it – lots of fat larvae. To get the wasp nest, speed is not needed: the main thing here is dexterity. Despite the injury, the macrokupara did not lose the tenacity and strength of its paws. Like a bear of the human era, the macrokupara clumsily climbed the tree. The trunk is thick and cannot be grasped with paws, but the thick lignified stems of the vines easily endure the weight of an adult macrokupara, and it is much more convenient to climb up them. A wasp nest hangs ten meters above the ground, but this does not frighten the macrokupara. Having reached the nest of wasps, the beast knocked it down with a blow of its paw. Plant fibers woven into the thickness of the nest couldn’t withstand the impact, and a significant part of the nest broke off and fell down. Under the branch, only a piece of the uppermost tier of combs remained, and the rest of the tiers crashed down. The calmness of the wasp colony was broken by this powerful blow. Some of the wasps and larvae were crushed by flattened combs, but some of the worker wasps could still fly. And there were enough of them to repulse the enemy.
Having hurried down from the tree, the macrokupara rushed to its trophy and tore apart the remains of the wasp building with its claws. Feeling the smell of their native nest, the worker wasps attacked the beast, forcing it to brush them off. Macrokupara feels pain from the wasp stings, but does not stop feeding – it sucks with pleasure the larvae and pupae of wasps from cells. This is a very nutritious and tasty food, for which it is worth enduring some pain from wasp stings. Macrokupara breaks open the nest, separating tier by tier, and eats everything that is possible. After about half an hour, its feast ended, and it continued its wandering, scratching its stung muzzle from time to time.
Wasps circulate over the remains of the ravaged nest. They can no longer do anything to save the colony – the instinctive program does not give them advice on how to save the larvae from the fallen nest. Moreover, this occupation is meaningless in itself: there is simply nowhere to take them away to.
While the wasps crawled helplessly over the remains of the nest, several tarukuwa ants were busily examining the crushed and torn combs. Macrokupara could not extract from the cells of the combs all the edible matter that was there, and the crushed wasp larvae seemed to be a very good find to the ants. These ants have set up a colony in the soft core of another tree in the vicinity of polomiki lantana thickets. Their main food is tree gum, but there are always a large number of larvae in their nest, which require protein food for normal growth and development. Therefore, the smell of the remnants of the tapiyucan wasp nest attracted several ant scouts, who quickly returned to the nest, carrying with them pieces of wasp larvae. Then the first small squads of foragers appeared on the remains of the wasp nest, which began to scout around the area in search of edible remains: wasp brood not eaten by macrokupara, honeydew and nectar, as well as dead and wounded wasps. After about half an hour, a whole column of tarukuwa ants moves in both directions between the place of the macrokupara meal and the ant colony. Some survived worker wasps try to resist the ants – they fly over the column, attacking single ants, biting and stinging them. These are desperate and obviously fruitless attempts – the ants outnumber them, and the wasp that attacked the ant immediately becomes the object of attack by other ants. They pounce on each wasp, several individuals at once, grab it by the wings and bite it in its abdomen. With bites and poison, the ants finish off the remaining worker wasps one by one and butcher them right on the battlefield, eating out soft tissues from the chitinous shells. Pokopoko’s honeydew from the guts of wasps is also used – worker ants suck it out and feed it to foragers busy plundering the remains of the wasp nest. In nature, nothing goes to waste: thanks to the efforts of foragers of tarukuwa and other species of ants, the remains of a wasp nest appear completely cleared of everything edible in a few hours, and literally in just a few days they will become soggy with rainwater and spread out into a paper pulp, which is utilized by bacteria and fungi.
All parts of the nest that fell to the ground died. However, this does not mean the death of the entire colony. After the attack of the macrokupara, only the upper tier of the nest remained on the branch, protected by a broken waxed roof. Worker wasps that survived after the death of the nest gather on its remains. Only the roof of the building persisted, under which the very first layer of combs was built – the very one in which the very first worker wasps had been raised. As the nest grew, it expanded, and the differences in the size of the cells show how it was expanded as the size of the nest increased. On this disastrous day for the colony, almost all the offspring of the colony, and a significant part of the working individuals, died. But the oldest queen, from which this colony began, remained alive – she survived, hiding under the roof of the nest. She gives meaning to the existence of worker wasps – sterile females ready to work selflessly for the benefit of the entire colony. The surviving workers gradually gather at the smell of the queen – they try to squeeze deep into the crowd around the queen, closer to her, in order to make sure of her well-being and receive chemical orders from her. There are enough workers to provide care and protection for the remnants of the colony, so the colony will survive, despite the significant destruction caused by the macrokupara. The war is over, giving way to creative labor, so the worker wasps turn from warriors into builders. Under the influence of the chemical orders of the queen, they scatter around the neighborhood, land on the trunks of trees and begin to scrape the bark and wood with their mandibles. By chewing these materials and mixing them with saliva, wasps get the wood pulp, of which the nest shell and new tiers of combs will be built.
Some of the wasps descend to the polomiki lantana thickets in search of new colonies of pokopoko treehoppers – working individuals work at the limit of their capabilities, therefore they need additional food. Every worker wasp that arrived with a drop of pulp in its mandibles is met by nurse wasps. While the nest-building wasps take away her burden and attach it to the nest, the nurse regurgitates a drop of nectar or pokopoko honeydew into the worker’s mouth, and this individual can fly for a new portion of wood pulp.
Workers quickly repair the destroyed part of the upper tier of the nest. Some of them complete the damaged roof, others gather and apply wax to its surface, and the third ones re-equip the comb cells under it – they wreck the old cells, clean the surface, chew the material of the cells and mold new clean cells from it. Gradually, new cells appear along the edge of the comb, ready to receive a new generation of wasp offspring. In the middle of the roof, workers have already begun to form a stalk from wood pulp, embedding hairs and plant fibers into the unset building material. The chemical instructions from the queen make them build more and more intensively – the colony needs to be replenished.
The queen, accompanied by working individuals, inspects the “newbuilds”. She often asks workers for food, opening her mandibles, and no one dares to refuse her. Her body begins to work in the “egg factory” mode again, and soon one egg appears in each new cell – this is the future of the colony. One or two larvae from the new brood will be raised in a special way – they should turn into new fertile queens that ensure the reproduction of the colony.
… Another year has passed.
Near the thickets of polomiki lantana, a large young myriyutherium male feeds. It is difficult to recognize in him that little porcupine cub that lost its mother a few years ago. This is Tisquesusa. Judging by his size, the survival lessons he learned in childhood were successfully adopted, and he managed not only to survive, but also to grow into a huge strong beast, able to fend for himself. He leads a full-scale life of an adult lone animal, does not depend on anyone and independently overcomes the difficulties that nature delivers him. The year before last, he managed to survive during a very large flood, sitting for a long time on a branch of a large tree. At this time, he managed to eat all the available greenery on the branch and even gnawed off the thickets of epiphytes.
Tisquesusa not only proved his resilience, but also managed to pass on his genes to a new generation; he has long been successful with females, regularly wins courtship tournaments and for the second year in a row becomes the father of several small cubs, which he does not take care of, to tell the truth. Like all males of its species, he is only interested in females when they are ready to mate, and is aggressive towards other adult males, perceiving them only as competitors.
In the thickets of polomiki lantana, Tisquesusa eats not only berries, but also shoots. Thanks to his strong incisors, he is able to bite even thick branches, but he prefers young lantana greens. The bitter taste of the plant no longer seems unpleasant to him, as it had taken place in his childhood, and he readily devours the greenery of the plant in large amounts. If a predator wants to attack him, Tisquesusa is ready to fight back with claws and huge incisors, and strong quills protect him from sudden attacks from the side and from behind.
Tisquesusa feasts not only on the shoots, but also on the fruiting bodies of the lantana false fruit fungus. They differ somewhat in taste from the “true” polomiki lantana fruits, but are also edible and tasty. He was so carried away by the search for these fungi that he looked back only when he heard a deep throat rumbling behind him. Raising his quills, Tisquesusa turned sideways and made several sharp movements with his tail – a fully formed bone “mace” with strong horn spikes had already grown on it. Tisquesusa’s eyesight is not very good, and he could hardly see the beast standing behind him. And the sense of smell gave the exact answer immediately – there is a macrokupara in front of him. Sometime in childhood, Tisquesusa had already experienced fear when this beast attacked him, being a very small cub. That time, the mother protected him and tore the paw of the predator with her claws. The memory of this incident was preserved by Tisquesusa as separate “flashes” of sensations, so it is unlikely that Tisquesusa will be able to recognize this beast as the same predator that attacked him in childhood. But there is no doubt – this is exactly the same beast: it limps on one leg, and scars are visible among the wool. It is quite possible that he also does not recognize Tisquesusa either: the young myriyutherium has changed too much over the years.
For several seconds, both beasts looked at each other intently, ready for any development of events. This time, Tisquesusa was not afraid of the beast, but only growled in displeasure and continued to eat fungi. He does not forget about the presence of a predator: his quills stick out on end, and his tail twitches slightly from side to side, as if preparing to strike. If the macrokupara nevertheless decides to attack him for some reason, Tisquesusa has something to meet him and put him to flight. The macrokupara also assessed his strength, glanced at the bristling up Tisquesusa, and then simply stepped aside, walked along the edge of the polomiki lantana thickets and began to eat berries. Something like an armed truce has developed between myriyutherium and macrokupara – neither of the animals will yield in the event of a conflict, and both animals can receive serious wounds from each other in the such fight, so they are afraid to get involved in a fight. Macrokupara does not want to mess with such a dangerous opponent for another reason: it began to age, and gray hairs are visible on its face. It was already an adult when it met the little Tisquesusa, and now its life is already coming to an end. However, thanks to the knowledge accumulated throughout his life about how to get food, he does not remain hungry, even when his powers are no longer what they used to be. And the meat of an adult myriyuterium is completely inedible for a macrokupara.
... Another rainy season has come. Rain falls from the sky like a continuous veil, and rivers in the plain overflow their banks. The selva turns into a patchwork carpet of rivers, lakes and swamps that connect with each other, and the forest remains between them as separate unflooded islets. But even if a continuous forest canopy is visible from a bird’s eye view, the ground under the trees may well be flooded with river waters to a considerable depth, making life difficult for land animals. At this time, terrestrial inhabitants have to move to islets of a forest that are not flooded with water, or even climb trees. The tree inhabitants at this time feel not much better: they may not be afraid of flooding, but long rains force them to seek shelter and significantly reduce the time for searching for food.
Huge Saguanmachika doesn't like rain. At this time, it is more difficult for him to hunt, because all the prey is hidden, and unpleasant rain soaks the plumage, so it is more difficult for him to fly. He spends a significant part of the day in the nest, along with the female. They formed a couple over a year ago, and since then they have not parted. Both birds perfectly understand each other, and they have developed quite harmonious family relationships - as far as the predatory disposition of large birds of prey, armed with a sharp beak and claws, allows.
A new stage in strengthening the relationship between Saguanmachika and his female was the building of the nest. The birds chose a place in the crown of a huge tree towering above the forest canopy, and dragged a whole bunch of boughs into the fork of the branches – the foundation of their nest alone weighs about two hundred kilograms. On top of it, birds carefully laid a flooring of thin rods and branches, forming the nest itself with a diameter of more than two meters. Birds do not nest during the rainy season, but the role of the nest in their family is more than just a place to breed in. The nest is also a kind of center of the vast territory of their couple, a meeting place for breeding partners and a place for their communication.
Unlike the sociable kurekure parrots, the illapas are very “short-spoken”. Their voices are rarely heard over the forest, and at home the birds prefer to communicate with the help of not numerous postures and actions. To escape the rain, Saguanmachika and his female stand on the nest under a branch that provides at least some protection from the rain. But a gust of wind shakes the water from the branch onto the birds, and the water seeps under their plumage. This is an unpleasant sensation and both birds shake their plumage. After that, the female simply climbed under the wing of Saguanmachike and froze, closing her eyes slightly.
Polomiki lantana grows only on hills where the waters of rivers do not reach during the flood, or where flooding is short-term, no more than a few days. If the bushes appear flooded, many pests of this plant die. During the rain, the flowers of the plant get wet and stick together, so it is more difficult for insects to gather nectar from them in those few hours when the rain stops and the sun peeks between the clouds. Pokopoko treehoppers escape the water by rising to the top of the plant’s crown. Despite such relocations, insects are not left without care. Tapiyucan wasps continue to visit their colonies, finding pokopokos by their scent. But during the rains, the honeydew secreted by pokopokos does not accumulate on the branches, but is washed off with water, so wasps get only the honeydew which the insects under their wardship secrete in their immediate presence.
At night, no one takes care of the pokopoko treehoppers: the rising water cuts off the tarukuwa ant colony from them. But this circumstance had little effect on the life of the tarukuwa ants: they are surviving a flood on the tree where their colony is arranged, and the water has seeped into the lower tiers of their dwelling. Pokopoko colonies are inaccessible, but the ants do not suffer from hunger: they simply make forays into the crown of the tree and into the thickets of vines and epiphytes. During the flood, the crown of the tree became a refuge for many small creatures – insects, spiders and mites.
Adult tarukuwa ants have a peculiar diet: they feed on the gum of trees, preferring trees infected by fungi. During the day, the tarukuwa ants stay in tunnels bored in the wood and are relatively inactive. They are busy mainly with the care of the queen and the numerous offspring she produces. In their tunnels, the tarukuwa ants catch insects that happen to be there and feed them to their larvae.
In the cool of the night, tarukuwa workers become more active. At this time, it is safer to feed, and from the tunnels gnawed in the wood, tarukuwa workers rush into the crown of the tree. It isn’t by accident that the tarukuwa ants choose trees with soft wood for life. It is easier to bore tunnels in their trunks, but this is not the main advantage of such trees. They usually grow very quickly, but their wood is nondurable. Ants have a symbiotic relationship with more than just pokopoko treehoppers. The services of tarukuwa ants are also used by various species of wood-attacking fungi that infect trees resided by tarukwa ants. The mycelium of these mushrooms grows in the tunnels bored by ants, and spreads via them throughout the entire tree trunk. On trees inhabited by ants of this species, fruiting bodies of mushrooms develop in large numbers: they sprout from under the bark, which bursts under their pressure. In such places, the gum begins to exude abundantly from the tree trunk, and it is quickly licked off by the working individuals of tarukuwa ants. The gum is sticky, and fungal spores stick to it in large numbers. Ants bring them into the nest along with food, and during the sharing of food between members of the ant colony fungal spores appear in the intestines of all adults who have ever eaten gum. The fungal spores survive passing through the guts of the insects and are not harmed by the ants’ symbiotic bacteria that ferment the gum and aid their digestion.
Unlike adults, ant larvae successfully develop only with an abundance of high-quality protein food. And the only stable source of such food is insects that live in the crown of a tree. During search for gum, tarukuwa ants exterminate many small insects – often a worker ant, having filled its crop with gum, drags a piece of insect into the colony. Under good conditions, the ant larvae grow very quickly, and new workers and soldiers reinforce the colony. And when the food flow becomes more abundant thanks to the efforts of working ants, the larvae have the opportunity to become something more than just sterile workers or soldiers. Part of the larvae that receive enhanced nutrition will live a different life: they are destined to conquer new habitats and become the founders of new colonies. But for now, ant larvae stir in nest chambers, and tarukuwa workers scurry in tree crown wet from the rain and gather tree gum.
Flood is a serious test even for those creatures that love moisture. During a flood, many rainforest ground frogs are faced with a choice: to swim in the water or to climb trees. Small amphibians of light build very easily switch to a new way of life, but heavy-built short-legged burrowing forms have to move into the water or follow the rise in the water level, getting out to the hills.
A long body of blue-violet color with lighter transverse rings wriggles in the water – it is a giant mboi-tata caecilian. Usually these animals lead a secretive lifestyle and react only to the presence of prey within reach. But during the flood, water filled the hole of the mboi-tata, and the amphibian had to move to the element of its very distant ancestors. It is difficult for this blind creature to be guided in the water – this world of space is significantly different from the tight hole that the giant caecilian felt literally with every centimeter of its body. And if on land the mboi-tata behaves like a “living trap”, then in the water it must search for prey actively. Living in the river, mboi-tata feeds on frogs and slow-moving fish like catfishes, and also eats freshwater crabs. Slow metabolism and the ability to skin respiration allow this animal to emerge for air not too often. Having taken one breath, the amphibian may not emerge for almost an hour. Having dived, it swims along the bottom, not appearing too much to the eyes of possible predators. It may be blind, but its chemical sense organs and separate sensitive cells scattered in its skin allow the amphibian to be guided in the water. Mboi-tata feels both the movement of the water flow around it and the perturbations that schools of nimble small fish bring into it. This kind of prey is too small for it, so the amphibian does not pay attention to it. By indirect cues, mboyi-tata can determine the size of creatures that are nearby. If this creature is small, it can be attacked, but it is better to stay away from large ones.
Waves felt by the giant amphibian indicate the movement of a large creature. Judging by the direction and pattern of these waves, it keeps near the surface of the water and rows rhythmically with its paws, moving towards the shore. The primitive brain of the mboi-tata suggests that this creature is too large to become its prey. A meeting with it is undesirable, so the mboi-tata simply dives deeper and digs into the ground, raising a cloud of turbidity mixed with rotten leaves of the forest floor with its movements. When they will settle, the body of the mboi-tata will not be noticeable.
Ajuricaba got out of the river and shook himself. He’s soaked through and not very fond of water, although he isn’t afraid to hunt in the rain, swims across small rivers without hesitation, and even knows how to dive. He is hungry: in the last couple of days, he was content with only occasional small prey. Perhaps even the watery meat of the mboi-tata would now be a suitable snack, but this animal escaped from him in time thanks to caution, and it’s very difficult to hunt this amphibian in the water: under water, the mboi-tata swims quickly, and dives deep and for a long time. In addition, there are many other creatures in the river that are more suitable for the role of dinner for the large cat – fish, for example. During floods, fishes have the opportunity to swim through the forest and feed on fruits and small animals that fall from tree branches into the water. In human epoch, rodents were the favorite food of small cats. And in the Neocene in the basin of the great rivers of South America there are rodents that can satisfy even the appetite of a lion-sized cat.
During the flood, many small living creatures crowd on the hills, which turn into islands. Some of the forest dwellers escape the water on the trees, while others have to survive the flood on the ground. During such natural disasters, a wide variety of animals, including predators and their prey, gather on patches of land surrounded by river waters. Therefore, those who escaped the element on such an island face a danger of a different kind.
Tisquesusa survives another flood on the island. He has studied his possessions well, and knows where to go in order to escape the flood, so he perceives periodic floods as a completely natural phenomenon that simply introduces some difficulties into his habitual life. On the island in the river waters, he has everything he needs for life: shelter and a sufficient amount of food, including thickets of polomiki lantana. This shrub is the main type of food for myriyutherians, but not the only one – these porcupines eat dozens of species of herbaceous plants and love to chew the leaves of young trees in the undergrowth. Wandering around his island, Tisquesusa found a delicacy – calathea grass. Its spotted leaves are very recognizable, and for the Tisquesusa, it is one of the favorite fodder plants – they are nutritious and have a noticeable sweetish taste. He began to dig around the plant with his claws. After some movements of his paws, thick spindle-shaped tubers of the plant appeared on the ground surface, and Tisquesusa began to eat them greedily, sniffing with pleasure. Distracted by eating delicacies, Tisquesusa did not notice how an ominous silence engulfed the forest, and then somewhere in the tree crown, a kurekure parrot screamed in alarm. This loud rasping voice is known to all the inhabitants of the forest, and its meaning is unambiguously understood by them. Tisquesusa looked back in time – and looked directly into the eyes of the monster. A huge jaguarete male – Ajuricaba – sneaks up on him. If Tisquesusa had delayed, he would have been killed. But he reacted instantly: he turned on his hind legs and stood in a fighting stance, growling loudly and threatening the jaguarete with his powerful claws, and waving a mace on his tail. Ajuricaba also growled loudly, but he no longer dared to attack the myriyutherium. The moment of surprise is lost, and every second of delay reduces the predator’s chances of a successful hunt. Ajuricaba growls, bares his teeth and lashes his sides with his tail. Tisquesusa does not back down; its quills stand on end, his incisors are bared, and his claws are ready to strike. If an attack does happen, Tisquesusa will be able to repel it with a blow of a heavy tail, driving strong corneous quills into the body of the enemy. Both mammals are armed and worthy adversaries for each other; for about five minutes they both stood in a fighting stance, growling and purring at each other, displaying their readiness to fight. Then Ajuricaba turned around and retreated, realizing that even if he won, he would receive serious injuries that would put his survival in doubt. He wandered to the edge of the island, to try to catch a big fish or someone else. The porcupine followed the cat with his eyes, baring his incisors, and then continued to dig and devour the tubers of the plant. As long as the myriyutherium and the jaguarete were assessing each other’s strengths, the kurekure parrots watched them from the forest canopy and screamed in alarm, like fans during a match. When Ajuricaba disappeared into the bushes, some of the parrots continued to mob it, while other birds gradually calmed down and continued to feed in the forest canopy.
The confrontation between Ajuricaba and Tisquesusa was observed from a tree by one silent witness – the large illapa male Saguanmachika. He is almost not concerned with the problems of the inhabitants of the ground and water: his possessions are in the sky. This year, for the first time, he became the father of three voracious chicks at once, which constantly need to be fed. Therefore, he has to hunt almost all day, in any weather. The conflict of large animals interests him only indirectly – their movements frighten those creatures that can become the prey of the illapa. Flooding also helps to prey on land dwellers – Saguanmachika often catches drowning animals carried by the river, or hunts on small islets where he cannot be escaped from. Now he did not see suitable prey, so he indifferently watched Tisquesusa, digging in the ground, and followed Ajuricaba.
Ajuricaba grew up to be a huge and strong beast, completely different from the helpless, blind kitten completely dependent on the mother, which he came into this world. Like Tisquesusa, he is young, strong and very popular with females. He has already become the father of many kittens, which he does not raise, like Tisquesusa. It should be noted that Ajuricaba is a very successful hunter, so an unsuccessful attack on Tisquesusa does not discourage him. Staying hungry for a while and retaining the ability to hunt in the future is better than getting hurt, left crippled and living the rest of your life starving, picking up carrion and other hunters’ scraps. However, for other inhabitants of the forest, it is precisely such a life strategy that turns out to be optimal.
Ajuricaba left and Tisquesusa continued digging for delicious calathea roots. If the predator did not continue the attack, most likely, in the near future it will no longer return, and for some time it will not be possible to be afraid of it. Tisquesusa chewed on another root as twigs snapped somewhere off to the side. Still chewing, Tisquesusa returned to his fighting stance, his claws out in front of him. This is hardly an enemy: the predator will not reveal its location so clearly, and this alien wanders through the bush, branches cracking under its paws. It is possible, however, that it is a competitor, so Tisquesusa prepared to drive him away.
A lame macrokupara emerged from the thicket. During a fight with Tisquesusa’s mother many years ago, it was injured and maimed for life. However, it does not prevent the beast from living: it continues to limp, but it has found an easy way to survive and eat well. It doesn’t need Tisquesusa or what he eats: the macrokupara just follows Ajuricaba, picking up leftovers from his dinner table. Due to its large size and strength, it easily drives away competitors, but does not risk attacking its benefactor. Every time after a successful jaguarete’s hunt, it just waits patiently until Ajuricaba finishes eating, and eats the rest of his prey. This trick allowed it to maintain nutritional state and health, despite its considerable age and pale gray hairs on its face. It became the father of many cubs, and even now some females in the forest are pregnant with its cubs.
The limping macrokupara walked right next to Tisquesusa, forcing him to keep his fighting stance. The porcupine bares his incisors and holds his front paws at the ready, but the macrokupara simply gave him an absent-minded look, as if he were just a tree trunk or a bush. This beast has a different interest – not to lose track of its unwitting benefactor. When the macrokupara left, Tisquesusa continued to feed.
Ajuricaba wanders along the water’s edge. Before the flood of the river, this place was just a forest, but now Ajurikaba splashes on the water over and over again. The trees stand in the water, and in the shade of the crowns, fishes swimming above their roots are visible. The flooded forest has one advantage for hunting – it is easier to hide and ambush here. Ajuricaba sniffed the ground and animal droppings under the trees – here it is a favorite feeding spot for the jakarawas. He likes their meat, and he is pretty good at hunting these animals. They are swift and wary, and are best hunted from ambush, best by cutting off their retreat into the water.
Ajuricaba hid among the roots of a tree, where parted feathery fern fronds rose from the ground. Their shadow blends with the mottled pattern on Ajuricaba’s hide, obscuring the outline of his body and allowing him to observe his surroundings. For the hunt to be successful, it is important just to wait patiently, and the predator lay in ambush.
Jakarawas appeared quite soon – they belong to the most common near-aquatic rodents in the selva. A small herd of these animals wanders along the edge of the water, browsing the grass. It numbers several adult females with striped cubs, led by a dark red male. Ajuricaba has already forgotten the times when he had to catch small and stupid jakarawa cubs. Now he has grown a lot, so he prefers to get adult animals. Watching them, he noticed that one of the females stepped on one leg not very confidently – the animal was limping slightly, because a fly larva had penetrated under the skin at the base of the hoof-like claw, and it was painful for the animal to step on this leg. The consciousness of Ajuricaba works in such a way that the rest of the animals seem to have ceased to exist for him: they have become only a background, on which the limping individual is clearly distinguished. Ajuricaba lies in wait, keeping his eyes on this jakarawa. He waits for this particular animal to separate from the rest or come close enough to make one precise jump from the ambush.
The silly jakarawas do not notice the hidden predator: they come closer and closer to the fern thickets where Ajuricaba is hiding. He is preparing to attack, and his muscles are tense – he must put all his strength into one exact rush. And when the limping jakarawa moved away from its relatives to pick up the fruit fallen from the tree, Ajuricaba rushed forward. His appearance dangerously close to jakarawas was so unexpected that he managed to overtake and bite the intended prey by the throat before the jakarawa male sounded the alarm and the herd rushed away. While Ajuricaba strangled his prey with clenched jaws, the rest of the jakarawas rushed to the saving water. They dived with a splash and swam under the water into the depths, scaring away the fish. Having adapted to a semi-aquatic lifestyle, jacaravas are able to hold their breath for a long time. On land, Ajuricaba tries to cope with his prey, but it starts to break out of his jaws every time, as soon as he loosens his bite. Finally, Ajuricaba simply shook the captured jakarawa so hard that it broke its neck. And more successful jakarawas continue to hide from him under water. Feeling the need to inhale fresh air, the jakarawas began to stand on the bottom on their hind legs one by one, spreading their toes and stretching torso almost vertically. Animals raise their muzzles, exposing their proboscises to the water surface, and breathe carefully. Paddling with their feet, the beasts emerge closer to the shore, but there they feel immediately a terrible smell of blood: next to the water, Ajuricaba tears its prey and greedily swallows warm meat. Being close to a predator, even having got its prey, is too dangerous, so jakarawas swim farther away from the place of Ajuricaba’s feast.
Jakarawas dive mainly in case of danger, but still prefer to swim near the surface of the water, putting their heads up and breathing freely. Animals move in the water with expanded pads of their feet in a “step” or “galloping” mode, moving their legs in the same order as during walking. The cubs swim, keeping close to their mothers – in this way, they save some of their energy. Jakarawas are excellent swimmers, able to swim up to several kilometers; they easily swim across most of the rivers in the Amazon and Hippolyte river systems.
It wasn’t for nothing that Saguanmachika followed Ajuricaba. When the presence of the jaguarete frightened the jakarawas and they swam away, the bird of prey had only to choose his prey. The herd of swimming jakarawas is perfectly visible on the surface of the river, and they will not be able to swim away quickly from a feathered predator. And if they dive, they can be attacked again – they cannot swim far underwater. Saguanmachika flew off the tree and flew low over the water, flying around the trees sticking out of the water. In a matter of seconds, he caught up with the herd, put out his claws and snatched the jakarawa cub out of the water, almost without slowing down. The adults were frightened by the broad-winged silhouette of the illapa, which blocked the light for a moment, and they did the only thing they could – they dived. But this precaution came too late: one member of their herd is no longer with them.
Flapping his wings, Saguanmachika took off, holding prey in his claws. This jakarawa cub is very well-fed and heavy: the illapa barely managed to gain altitude and reach the forest canopy. And even more so, he will not be able to drag prey to the nest. Therefore, having put the prey into the fork of the branches, Saguanmachika simply began to tear the meat and swallow it in huge pieces in order to be able to fly to the nest and regurgitate more meat for the chicks. In part, he succeeded to do it: he cruised twice between a tree with prey and a nest, and the contents of his stomach moved to the stomachs of the chicks. When he returned for the third time, it turned out that someone had already stolen his lawful prey. There are too many eaters in the forest canopy and the competition for prey is very steep. There was little meat left on the half-eaten carcass – the best pieces had already been fed to the chicks. Nevertheless, so many edible parts remained on it that it seduced the unknown, but very clever thief. Illapas do not belong to the intellectuals of the world of feathered creatures, so Saguanmachika does not know the feeling of regret or annoyance from the loss: he simply began to look for new prey.
Sooner or later, the rain season ends, and the water level in the rivers decreases. The rivers recede, carrying part of the forest debris from the selva with it. A huge amount of organic matter will be processed by bacteria, invertebrates and fish, and will become the key to the productivity of reservoirs. When the water level drops, aquatic inhabitants try to return to the river with water, but not everyone succeeds to do it. Separate ponds and pits in the forest turn into traps for fish and other aquatic animals, and for forest dwellers such reservoirs turn into feeders. Saguanmachika loves to check out these ponds and puddles – sometimes prey much longer than his claws, which is worth hunting, appears there. Such puddles can be surrounded by liquid mud, in which a ground-dwelling fishing enthusiast can easily get bogged down, but light winged birds easily empty such puddles. The smallest of them peck out snails, shrimps and small fish, while the larger ones, like herons, catch more substantial prey. The largest fishes, weighing several kilograms, are large for herons and storks, but very well suited to the needs and appetite of Saguanmachika. Sweeping over the surface of the water, he deftly snatches the largest fish with his claws, while scaring away the birds that gather around such a puddle. This time, luck was on his side again: he managed to expiscate a large cichlid, weighing more than two kilograms, with his claws. The chicks, which there are already two left in the nest by this time, are not very willing to eat fish. But Saguanmachika himself greedily eats his catch. Taking off with the preyed fish on a tree, he pressed it with his claws against the branch and began to tear the meat, swallowing it in large chunks along with thin bones. Having quickly dealt with the prey, he dropped down the backbone with head – they can represent an interest, perhaps, for insects only.
With the end of the rains, a new phase of life begins in the tarukuwa ant colony. Recession of water re-opened for them the way to the colony of pokopoko treehoppers in the thickets of polomiki lantana, and the ants restored their feeding routes. However, this is far from the most important event in the daily life of the colony. More than a week ago, a special batch of larvae completed their metamorphosis in the nest of the tarukuva – they were large ones that received a good meat diet. Guided by the chemical signals of the queen, the workers obediently nursed these larvae, preparing them for the upcoming mission, bringing this great day closer.
After an endless succession of rains, a warm and clear day seems to be a real blessing of nature. And on the sun-warmed bark of a tree inhabited by tarukuwa ants, at the entrances to their nest, revival reigns. Typically, tarukuwa workers are active at night – they even have larger eyes than similar-sized ants having the daily activity. But now it is the working tarukuwa individuals that scurry on the bark of the tree – with black head, brown thorax and a bright red abdomen. They fuss, run in groups of several individuals and attack any animals that are on the bark near their nest. The gecko lizard bitten by them crawled further up the trunk, the spider, disguised as a pile of bird droppings, stirred and jumped down, pulling a long safety thread from its abdomen, and a few moths took off and preferred to look for a quieter place to rest. The number of tarukuwa workers on the bark gradually increases, and they literally scour the area around the entrances to the colony. The reason for such behavior becomes obvious soon: as if at a signal, from various tunnels of the ant nest like a stream winged individuals, “princes” and “princesses”, began to crawl out simultaneously onto the bark of a tree. Today is the only day in their lives when they will be able to take off and settle in order to establish new colonies. More precisely, this is the mission of young females. The task of males is much simpler: they must find and fertilize females so that their chosen ones can lay fertilized eggs for the rest of their lives.
The swarming of tarukuva ants is massive and synchronous in the vast areas of the selva, therefore, from a bird’s eye view, swarming winged ants are visible above the trees in various parts of the forest. Males fly from one swarm to another, spreading the genes of the founders of the colony to other colonies in the neighborhood. They search for females genetically different from them by smell and immediately begin mating, without any lengthy courtship rituals. Their lifespan is already limited, and loosing life for courtship is an unaffordable luxury.
Females willingly accept the courtship of unrelated males, and the more their smell differs from the native smell of the colony, the better – such mating contributes to the growth of the genetic diversity of the future colony. While the male is busy mating, the female is looking for a tree of a suitable type – with soft wood, and best of all already old and affected by fungi. The presence of thickets of polomiki lantana inhabited by colonies of pokopokos in the neighborhood is desirable, but not necessary – this is just a nice bonus to the diet of ants. In search of a good place for establishing a colony, the female can fly several kilometers away from her native colony. While the female is looking for a place to establish a colony, the male has time to complete mating. As a rule, he has no opportunity to see the final goal of the female’s flight: he quickly completes the mating, and the female simply throws him off herself. After the mating, males are hardly able to keep in air, and they often die, falling into the forest canopy or on the ground.
During the ant swarming, many forest dwellers literally gorge themselves on winged ants. But this is the great biological meaning of the mass swarming of ants – there are too many of them at once for the forest dwellers to be able to eat them all. Despite the efforts of the ant-devourers, there are always enough “princes” and “princesses” in the air for them to find each other and mate.
The community of devourers of ants is numerous. Predatory flies, wasps, and even itotoptera butterflies take their share in ant swarms. Insectivorous birds gorge themselves on ants, and nectar-eating lantana mango hummingbirds willingly catch winged male and female ants to feed their chicks. Winged ants are readily eaten by tree frogs and lizards, as well as numerous mammals. And among the mammals there are the largest of the ant-devourers.
Attracted by the swarming of ants, the lame macrokupara approached a tree occupied by the tarukuwa ant colony. At other times, it also eats insects, but prefers large ones, like beetles and their grubs. Individually, tarukuwa ants are too small for it, but during the swarming many thousands of them gather in limited areas, and they can be eaten in large quantities at once. Macrokupara is resourceful in finding ways to find food, and it knows how to get a lot of ants at once. It simply pried a peeled piece of bark with hooked claws and pulled it towards itself. The bark broke off, having opened the tunnels of insects gnawed under it, and thousands of ants appeared on the surface of the wood – winged tarukuwa ants surrounded by wingless worker ones. Dinner is served, and the beast just has to lick off the crawling ants. At this time, new ants crawl out to the place of the eaten ones, and the macrokupara can feed for a long time, standing in one place. Ants try to protect themselves from the huge destroyer of their nest: they bite the macrokupara on the lips and nose, and inject poison into the wounds. However, this does not stop the animal: it simply licks them off the muzzle, continuing to feed.
The swarming of tarukuwa ants benefits not only the insects themselves and the numerous eaters of ants. Winged males and females did not set off for nuptial flight immediately after metamorphosis. They spent some time in the nest, gathering in large groups on the walls of tunnels and galleries gnawed in the wood. Workers generously fed them with gum, which they regurgitated into their mouths. With the gum, the “princes” and “princesses” received the necessary symbiotic bacteria, which the lucky female founders will pass on to their offspring and spread throughout the colony. In addition, along with tarukuwa ants, symbiotic wood-attacking fungi spread through the forest. An alliance with ants gives them a significant advantage: instead of scattering spores at random, the fungus trusts the ants to disperse them. The fertilized tarukuwa “princesses”, the founders of new colonies, spread the spores in a targeted manner. These females build their nests in softwood, just right for the development of the fungus. Even if the fungus has already infected the tree chosen by the tarukuwa ant female, the appearance of a genetically unrelated mycelium contributes to the reproduction of the fungus and the successful development of fruiting bodies. The spores of the fungus get to a new place with ant droppings or on its covers, glued with gum, and germinate there. And along with the development of the nest of tarukuwa ants, the life cycle of the fungus begins.
Insects reproduce quickly and in large numbers, so the death of thousands of individuals does not matter – it is enough for a few to survive, and they will ensure the survival of the species. Other animal species have different life strategies: they produce few offspring and they have a large parental contribution to the rearing of offspring, but their survival rate is also very high. Such a strategy is typical for South American rodents – in this features they differ even from the rodents of the Old World, which grow and breed rapidly.
A young pregnant female has separated from the herd of jakarawas: the time of delivery is coming, and her cubs should see and imprint her first. Their success in survival depends on this: the mother feeds and protects them, and they need to know how she looks. The process of delivery occurs almost imperceptibly from the outside. The female almost does not worry, and only from time to time freezes briefly with her hind legs apart when contractions begin. But then the contractions stop, and she begins to browse the leaves of marsh plants again.
The delivery had taken place very quickly – they were no different from previous contractions, they just lasted a little longer. Literally in three or four minutes, the jakarawa female gave birth to two small striped cubs. They were born well-developed and able to walk just a few minutes after birth – it was this feature that distinguished the South American caviomorph rodents from their relatives and allowed them to become analogues of ungulates on this continent, being not tied to shelters during the breeding season. In the first minutes after the birth of the offspring, the female ate the afterbirth and began to lick her cubs. In the first minutes after birth, she became the first moving object they saw, and the first thing they remembered was the image of their mother, her smell and manner of movement. This is the most important lesson in life – they must know who will feed and protect them. Already ten minutes after birth, the cubs began to make attempts to rise to their legs, and in half an hour they were already running around their mother. They do not suspect that life is ready to teach them another lesson, much more terrible one.
A large illapa male – Saguanmachika – is watching the jakarawa cubs from the tree crown. His survival strategy is similar: two chicks are waiting for him in the nest, and they have already begun to fledge. In this bird species, the parental contribution to the offspring is also very large, but it is carried out mainly after the offspring came into being: the chicks hatch relatively small and helpless, but then grow very quickly and require a large amount of food. Therefore, both parents must hunt daily in order to provide food not only for themselves, but also for their offspring. And even with such care, it is unlikely that both chicks will survive before leaving the nest. Illapas usually hunt in the forest canopy, but tempting large prey can make a predator change its habits.
Saguanmachika took a moment and attacked. He flew off the tree like a lightning, flew over the very earth and grabbed a newborn jakarawa cub with one paw. But the predator did not manage to keep it in his paw, and the captured cub fell out of its claws. It cannot be said that the jakarawa cub was very lucky: the long claws of the illapa seriously injured it, and the cub is bleeding. It cannot rise from the ground, but still shows signs of life – twitches its legs and emits a weak moan. Therefore, the jakarawa female, seeing that it is alive, is ready to fight for it even with a terrible bird. She stood over the dying cub and pushed its luckier brother under her body with her muzzle. Saguanmachika also does not want to miss prey. He landed on the ground, folded his huge wings and began to walk around the female, trying to take what should be his. A frightened jakarawa female is forced to hold a circular defense – while a predatory bird walks around her, she keeps her head towards the enemy, ready to bite with her incisors. While they can’t crack nuts like at her distant ancestors of the human era, they are strong enough to tear through the living flesh of an enemy if necessary.
Saguanmachika tries to scare her. To look bigger and stronger, he spread his wings, reared up the feathers on his head and back, and began to spring on the jakarawa. Doing it, he clicks his beak, and his fierce red eyes look at the jakarawa female. Saguanmachika lunged at the jakarawa, his huge claws thrust forward, and it instinctively recoiled, pulling the cub along with her. The cub, wounded by Saguanmachika, had already bled to death by this moment and died quietly, not having lived even an hour after birth. The jakarawa female retreated only a step, but this was enough for the predator: the illapa grabbed the dead cub with its beak and dragged it to itself. When Saguanmachika dragged the body of the cub, the mother thought that it had moved, and she went on the attack. Having bared her incisors, the jakarawa female, tired after delivery, tried to recapture her cub from the illapa. She stomps her feet menacingly, clicks her incisors and utters sharp sounds reminiscent of squeaky dog barks. But at the last moment, Saguanmachika put all his strength and finally managed to grab the cub with his paw. Running up with difficulty, he flapped his wings, took off from the ground and dragged his prey to the nearest tree. He miraculously escaped serious injury, escaping with only a broken feather in one of the wings; it will have little to no effect on his ability to fly. After resting on the tree, he carried the prey to the nest. Perhaps the chicks will have enough of this meat for the next couple of hours – or more if one of the chicks got tired of waiting and dealt with his brother. And Saguanmachika himself will have to hunt again – not a piece of this prey will fall to him.
A young jakarawa mother hurried with her survived newborn son to the herd: it would still be safer in the company of relatives. By killing one cub, Saguanmachika increased the chances of another one to survive, but only slightly: the jakarawa has many enemies at any age. Their herd lives on the territory of Ajuricaba, and an adult jaguarete male full of strength regularly hunts these animals. However, despite the abundance of enemies, this rodent species thrives in the river system of the Amazon and Hippolyta.
The river and the selva are closely associated with each other, and land dwellers get part of their food in the water, while river dwellers often come out to feed on land. Ajuricaba is a representative of felines. He treats water with a certain caution: for him, this is an alien world, and he enters the water and swims only out of necessity – for example, during floods. However, he often ambushes near the river, is skilled in fish catching and loves to eat it. It is strong enough and able to pull large fish ashore. He also likes the meat of turtles, which he can scratch out of the shell with his claws – his jaws are rather weak for cracking the shell of this reptile.
Ajuricaba has a favorite place for fishing – it is a tree trunk, half lying in the water. Seeing a predator come out of the forest, several turtles had basking there jumped into the water from the trunk. Ajurikaba pays no attention to them: catching an aquatic turtle in the water is an almost useless occupation. Having jumped onto this trunk, the predator went to the branches sticking out of the water and hid. Fishes like to hide in the shade among the broken branches, and Ajuricaba often catches them simply with one precise movement of his paw with extended claws. Sometimes he does it in a canter – throws the fish high into the air and catches it with his paws or right with his mouth.
The predator lay down on the trunk and looked into the water. The glare of the sun makes it difficult to observe underwater inhabitants, but in the shade of tree crowns he can clearly see how fishes swim in the water – mostly schools of fry and small-sized fishes, which are not easy even to catch. Therefore, when a creature resembling an eel and about two meters long swam by the bottom, wriggling, Ajuricaba became interested in it, and began to peer into the water intently. The writhing creature has approached the tree where Ajuricaba is lurking – it clearly does not notice the danger. Ajuricaba grabbed the tree trunk with three paws, and carefully raised one of the front paws to strike. And when the underwater inhabitant was very close, the predator picked it up with its claws in one motion and threw it onto a tree trunk. Feeling pain, the captured creature began to wriggle and roll on the tree trunk, opening its wide mouth, but Ajuricaba pressed it with his paw, and then bit it hard several times, and his prey stopped escaping. The body of this creature has a recognizable bluish coloration with thin transverse rings throughout the body. Ajuricaba got a young mboi-tata caecilian, the meat of which he could eat full. Its meat is about as tasty as fish, but somewhat denser, because these animals spend a significant part of their time underground and dig holes. This amphibian is still young, and it obviously settled somewhere in new habitats using the water – it turns out much faster this way. But this time it was out of luck.
Having pulled the prey ashore, Ajurikaba began to eat it. He does not pay attention to the sounds of the birds around – some kurekure parrot noticed him and began screaming attracted several more birds. However, Ajuricaba is not hunting now, so he doesn’t care if he’s been spotted.
On the opposite bank, branches crunched under the feet of huge creatures, and a herd of barocavias emerged from the forest. They were grazing somewhere nearby in the undergrowth, and now they are looking for a place to rest. The beasts entered the water, and one of the adult females suddenly smelled Ajurikaba, and then saw him with her short-sighted eyes. She uttered an alarming roar, and the leader of the herd, a large big-headed male, stepped forward, pushing the females aside. He rushed into the river and quickly crossed it almost by wading. Without slowing down, he climbed out of the river, roaring and displaying his huge white incisors. With such teeth, it is possible to bite in half a small tree easily, and if Ajuricaba falls into his teeth, the beast can bite off his paw just as easily. The warning is more than clear and unambiguous, and it is better for him not to meet too close with these beasts.
Ajuricaba grabbed the half-eaten caecilian and dragged it away from the river. The barocavia male pursued him for several steps, but then stopped and simply began to roar loudly, baring his incisors. He can afford to express his aggression openly: an adult barocavia, while it is healthy and full of strength, has actually no enemies in the selva.
… Years have passed. Each species has its own lifespan, so someone’s life has already ended while someone else is just entering the time of physical flowering. In the selva, small hummingbirds most often do not live up to two years, but in the first year of life they can theoretically see their own grandchildren. Other birds live much longer: among the kurekure parrots there are still centenarians who even saw Tisquesusa’s mother and continue to live, be healthy and raise posterity, but many of the birds in the flocks of this species are much younger.
Ajuricaba died first. This is quite expected: the life of a predatory beast is short, and physical exertion is great, so every day of life, except perhaps the earliest childhood, turns into a test of strength and vitality. In addition, too much happens in predator’s life: a collision between predator and prey often leads to danger to both of them. Physical exertion and accidental injuries are common during hunting. It also happens that the prey sells its life dearly, inflicting injuries on the predator, which can eventually be fatal. Perhaps Ajuricaba could have lived longer – he was still far from the age limit for his species. But the circumstances not always favor him.
... That day, Ajuricaba was hunting jakarawas in the coastal thickets. He is already an adult experienced male, who knows his territory and is fluent in the art of killing. He knows the banks of the rivers, and he knows in what territories the jakarawa herds stay. These animals are small, and they do not deplete the plant thickets with their feeding. Ajuricaba has several favorite ambush sites, and now he is currently watching grazing jakarawas from one of them, a thicket of broad-leaved calatheas. The spots on his skin are in perfect harmony with the bizarre spotted coloration of the calathea leaves, so the jakarawas, who have poor color vision, do not notice him in this ambush. The attack position is ideal – he just needs to wait until the jakarawas approach.
Hearing snorts and splashes, the jakarawas ran aside. Ajuricaba looked in the direction of the river and saw how huge wet bulks – barocavias – were coming ashore. Streams of water flow down the coarse wool of animals, and clouds of silt swirl in the water under their feet. It looks like Ajuricaba’s disguise is too good: they don’t notice him. If the herd does not change direction, they will simply trample it. With a short growl, Ajuricaba jumped up, and only then did several barocavias at once notice him – and among them was the dominant male, the leader of the herd. An alarming roar of females was heard in the air, and several cubs frightenedly rushed deep into the herd, under the protection of adults. While the females hide the cubs behind their bulks, the male came out to protect his herd. He has been leading the herd for many years, having won leadership in it in a fair tournament with the former head of the herd. His head with balding hair is covered with many scars – this is a warrior, hardened in battle. Even an adult jaguarete isn’t a match for him, so he does not hesitate for a minute, and attacks immediately: he roars, baring his teeth, and advances on a predator. Ajuricaba is taken by surprise, he has no way out. Therefore, he took a desperate step: with a roar, he rushed at the barocavia male, hit him with his claws on the shoulder and jumped sideways, hoping that the large animal would retreat, so that he could escape. The age of Ajuricaba makes itself felt – he is already massive and not as dexterous and flexible as in his youth. Hastily retreating from the barocavia male, he accidentally caught his paw on the root, lost his balance and fell. Noticing this, the barocavia male chased him – despite their huge size, these animals are very fast at a short distance. Ajuricaba lacked literally a few steps: he did not have time to jump back behind the trees from the path of the barocavia male, and the huge beast overtook the predator. The barocavia male did not bite Ajuricaba, but hooked him with its head and threw him up; a blow from the armored skull of the barocavia shattered Ajuricaba’s ribs.
Thrown by the barocavia male into the bushes, Ajuricaba rushed to run with the last of his strength. And with each jump, he weakens, each new breath is given more and more difficult, and a terrible pain pierces the chest. But Ajuricaba still managed to escape from the barocavia male. When the river and the monsters living in it were far behind, Ajuricaba finally stopped to catch his breath. He stood in the undergrowth for a long time, head down and breathing heavily, and then coughed. At this time, red drops of blood appeared on the leaf of the plant over which he stood: a fragment of one of the ribs pierced his lung. Internal damage to soft tissues after hitting the barocavia’s head turned out to be very significant. Ajurikaba is still alive, but can no longer hunt. With difficulty he reached his lair, where he lay, weakening every day, and died after several days of extreme suffering. Nature does not know mercy, and his death was more painful and longer than the death of those who fell by his teeth. And he died so quickly and unexpectedly that he never managed to see a single possible contender for his territory.
The old Tisquesusa is still strong, but age is already making itself felt. He still lives in the same territory that he settled once in his youth, and knows it almost to the nearest step – where there are shelters, where edible plants grow, where it is more likely to meet the enemy. It has almost stopped growing, having reached the maximum size for its species, but age-related changes become quite obvious: the beast’s hair gradually turns gray, especially on his muzzle. Tisquesusa has become extremely predictable in his behavior: the time for experiments and searches has long passed, and what he knows ensures the fulfillment of all his vital needs. He roams his territory along a particular route and regularly visits the thickets of polomiki lantana to eat another batch of leaves poisonous to other animals. Thickets of this plant are still numerous in the selva – only their location changes: in some places they degrade due to diseases or being eaten by herbivores, while in others, on the contrary, they grow thanks to numerous allies and supplant other plant species. Tisquesusa knows the location of these thickets, and simply moves through the forest from one thicket to another. He slowly wanders along the well-known path to the far end of his territory, to the lantana thickets, which he visits less often than others. These thickets attract him by the fact that they are located in the border possessions of several of his relatives and have become a kind of “meeting point” for them. Myriyutherians from several neighboring territories usually feed there, and among them there may be females ready to mate. Tisquesusa is no longer young, but he retained the desire to procreate and does not refuse the opportunity to realize it under a successful set of circumstances. In addition, females, when given the choice, prefer adult strong males. Therefore, Tisquesusa, not without reason, expects to replenish once again the ranks of his descendants already living in the selva. On the approaches to the thickets, he carefully sniffs the ground, but does not notice the traces of his relatives. Usually, near lantana thickets, various myriyutherium individuals leave their footprints, urine and droppings, by the smell of which their relatives can identify them and find out their physiological condition. But now Tisquesusa does not find traces of their presence, and the oddities do not end there. Usually thickets of polomiki lantana attract birds with their berries; therefore, approaching its thickets, Tisquesusa hears the voices of parrots and other birds feeding in the lantana bushes from afar. But now there is silence over the thickets, interrupted only by the usual voices of forest birds in the forest canopy – the same ones that are heard in any other corner of the forest. Coming out of the forest to the thickets of polomiki lantana, Tisquesusa saw that something else was happening here – something that Tisquesusa had never seen in his long life in the selva. A monotonous rustle is heard in the air, and as if a blizzard literally whirls over the thickets of polomiki lantana. However, this is a strange blizzard – not a white one, as you might expect from a normal snow blizzard, but a black-violet-brown blizzard of many thousands of butterflies.
Tisquesusa has witnessed a rare phenomenon, though he hardly has the sense to appreciate its rarity and beauty. Above the thickets of polomiki lantana there is a massive swarming of awakaparu butterflies. This butterfly species of is one of those few insects that are able to feed on the foliage of polomiki lantana without any harm to themselves. In the selva, they are relatively rare, but in locations where the fodder plant grows, they are quite common, and they can rarely be found at a great distance from the lantana thickets. Now, with such a number that is observed above the thickets, these butterflies are unlikely to be just ordinary, and even the word “numerous” is not indicative of their numbers. The fact is that every few years it happens that the number of the butterfly is at its peak, while the number of its enemies and parasites is minimal. When these circumstances overlap, a large-scale outbreak of awakaparu number occurs, and the number of these butterflies in their usual habitats increases thousands of times. When a mass emerging of these butterflies from pupae occurs in the thickets of polomiki lantana, a dense swarm of these insects hovers above the plants. And if a single butterfly flies almost silently, then with such a number and density of the congestion of insects, the noise of their wings becomes clearly audible – this is the rustle that Tisquesusa heard. Absently biting off some lantana leaves, Tisquesusa tasted the crushed caterpillars of these butterflies on his tongue. Spitting out the food, which suddenly became unpalatable, Tisquesusa headed back into the heart of the forest to search for other edible plants.
The mass swarming of awakaparu butterflies is a very rare and colorful wildlife show. Although their coloration is not bright, the wings of males flare in the sunlight with an intense metallic sheen. In these butterflies, the abdomen also shines, adding blue sparks to the modest colors of their swarm. Males and females display themselves by shining brightly in the air above the fodder plant, search for each other and mate in flight. In this way, these insects lay the foundation for a local ecological disaster.
A few days after the awakaparu swarming, their eggs appear at the bases of lantana flowers. Hatching tiny caterpillars first of all devour delicate flowers and nutritious ovaries, which is why thickets of polomiki lantana lose their former colourfulness in a matter of days, acquiring a uniform gray-green color. Due to the activities of the caterpillars, the new crop of delicious berries of this shrub will take a very long time to wait for. The caterpillars grow rapidly, and after a couple of days they go down the shoots and begin to eat the foliage. Caterpillars of different ages forage together – there are too many of them to stay away from each other, and competition for food begins between them. Soon, only gnawed round midveins will remain from the gray-green leaves of polomiki lantana, which will be scraped off by caterpillars that are late for the feast.
Awakaparu larvae grow rapidly, but their appetites grow even faster. They constantly crawl from one place to another and devour the foliage of the bush. Ten days later, lantana thickets represent a pitiful sight. Numerous fat awakaparu caterpillars crawl along the shoots, and the crowns of the bushes have become almost transparent, and the sunlight penetrates to the very ground. In the thickets, greenish sparks on the stems are noticeable from afar: the pokopoko treehoppers shine brightly in the sun with their covers. Because of the gluttony of the caterpillars, they are no longer hidden by greenery, and the bright sun disturbs these insects, forcing them to search for saving shade. They feed worse, constantly crawl from one place to another or even try to fly somewhere else, although pokopokos are pretty bad flyers. Tapiyucan wasps fly hover above their colonies, trying to harvest their sweet honeydew, but the pokopokos barely react to their touches. Obviously, they are having a hard time with the outbreak of awakaparu. Some worker wasps seize still wingless treehopper nymphs and transfer them to the few lantana plants that have survived among the feast of caterpillars or are located somewhere away from the main thickets. No one saves adult insects – they are unlikely to live long, and whoever of them finds the strength to fly away, it is saved himself.
Over the next few days, the old Tisquesusa returned to the lantana thickets of polomiki and ... did not recognize them. He wanders among the heavily thinned thickets of lantana, tastes the shoots of the plant in various places, and each time, along with the plant matter, awakaparu caterpillars get into his mouth. They have an unpleasant taste, so he spits them out. Tisquesusa will not remain hungry – he eats plants of many species with pleasure. Also, he will not be left without protection: the poison of lantana remains in his tissues for a long time. It looks like he won’t be able to taste the lantana greens and berries here anytime soon.
The activity of avakaparu caterpillars led to a decrease in the diversity of the population of thickets: having exterminated the flowers of the plant, they forced many nectar-eating insects and lantana mango hummingbirds to move to other places. The temporary fantastic abundance of awakaparu caterpillars attracts to the lantana thickets few creatures that are able to eat these animals. A large itotoptera butterfly flies over the eaten bushes. It is a distant relative of awakaparu – both butterflies belong to the same family. However, their diet differs radically. Itotoptera landed on a bush and began to crawl among the foliage gnawed by caterpillars. It didn’t have to look long: the caterpillars crawl up the branches of the plant singly or in groups, devouring any greenery they find. One of them will no longer have to dine today: the itotoptera grabbed it with its modified forelegs, untwined its thin pointed proboscis and stuck it into the captured caterpillar. Awakaparu has few enemies – eating poisonous lantana, the insect accumulates poison in its fat, and few animals eat it in adult consition. But even such protected insects have enemies: awakaparu caterpillars fall prey of some predatory insects. Itotoptera crushes the caterpillar with its legs like a tube, and carefully sucks it out. It feeds on the body fluids of the caterpillar, but does not touch the poisonous fat – if it is not eaten, the awakaparu caterpillar turns out to be quite edible. Having finished with the prey, itotoptera dropped its remains, flew over to a neighboring branch and grabbed another caterpillar. Over the thickets of polomiki lantana, several more individuals of itotoptera fly, which also hunt caterpillars. But the harm they put is absolutely imperceptible to the million-strong army of caterpillars devouring lantana.
At night, avakaparu caterpillars continue feeding – it is important for them to accumulate enough nutrients for metamorphosis. Under the cover of darkness, tarukuwa ants appear in the thickets. They visited the lantana thickets regularly, checking up the pokopoko colonies, but with each new night, the harvesting of the insect secretions became increasingly scarce. They crawl across the remnants of the thicket, but in many places the pokopoko colonies known to them have disappeared, or they are left with a few old insects that are not capable of producing any significant amount of sweet secretions. In search of the vanished pokopoko colonies, tarukuwa ants began to scour the thickets of lantana, marking their paths with odorous substances. They managed to find a small colony of young pokopoko aside from the main thickets – on bushes growing some meters away from them. This colony was organized during the past day by tapiyucan wasps, which tried to save insects from starvation. There are only some dozen of pokopoko nymphs in the colony, which is very little to satisfy the needs of the ant colony, but the ants remember the location of these insects anyway.
Tarukuwa foragers climb the caterpillar-eaten branches of polomiki lantana. They meet mainly awakaparu caterpillars, busily devouring the remains of polomiki lantana leaves. When meeting with ants, the caterpillars arch their backs like an angry cat, but continue feeding. They are poisonous, and therefore are not afraid of most predatory insects. Only adult itotoptera butterflies, skillfully operating their proboscii and not injecting digestive enzymes into their prey, can suck out their body fluids without harm to themselves. Itotoptera caterpillars also search for food on lantana plants, but they are predators, like adults. The outbreak of the awakaparu caterpillars allowed the itotoptera caterpillar to feed without wasting energy on searching for food – they are literally surrounded by prey, and almost do not move during the hunt: awakaparu caterpillars stumble upon them and turn to their dinner.
Having met an itotoptera caterpillar, tarukuwa ants try to fight it – one of the ants pinched it with mandibles. In response, the caterpillar bent the body, lifting its front part, and splashed at the attacker with a poisonous belch – a semidigested awakaparu caterpillar. The itotoptera caterpillar eats awakaparu caterpillars along with their fat and accumulates toxic substances in its body, and until the prey is digested, the vomit of the itotoptera caterpillar is also poisonous. Itotoptera caterpillars are among the few predators that are able to eat a poisonous insect. The ants unsuccessfully attack it, but the caterpillar defends itself by shaking its head from side to side and meeting the attackers with a spray of semidigested food. Mixed with the rapidly solidifying secretion of the salivary glands, this vomit turns into an effective weapon: several ants stuck to the vomit and poisoned themselves, while trying to get free. The rest of the ants will have to forget the way here for a long time – the itotoptera caterpillar can effectively defend itself.
The mass congestion of awakaparu caterpillars in a limited area carries a certain danger to the health of these caterpillars. During the day, each of them inevitably comes into contact with several relatives, and the consequences of such crowding were not long in coming.
One of the awakaparu caterpillars got sick. It turned pale, its movements became sluggish, and its appetite gradually decreased. In the first days after infection, it differs little in appearance from its relatives, except for color and behavior, but its disease gradually progresses, and soon fungal hyphae appear from the spiracles on the sides of its body – the caterpillar is affected by Entomophthora fungus, and its days are already numbered. The mycelial filaments of the fungus on the surface of its body gradually become thicker, and the caterpillar stops feeding and simply hangs upside down, holding tightly to the twig with its hind pairs of false legs. Fungal coating covers its entire body with a thin cotton-like film, which grows every hour. The spores of the fungus from an infected insect scatter over a short distance, but this is enough for the fungus: they infect caterpillars feeding in the neighborhood, which also become covered with a cotton-like white coating after a few days. Under conditions of crowding, caterpillars are rapidly and massively infected by entomophthora. They are no longer destined to complete their life cycle: they die and mummify, hanging on the branches, and the wind spreads the spores of the fungus. But the death of hundreds of caterpillars is invisible against the background of a short-term, but truly colossal local outbreak of the species.
…Two weeks passed. The local ecological catastrophe in the lantana thickets is nearing its logical end. The caterpillars ate everything they could, and in fact destroyed the foundation of their own well-being. Now the shrub does not grow and does not bloom, and those caterpillars that managed to turn into a chrysalis before the collapse of this natural community were a little more fortunate than others. The life of a number of animal species depends on the well-being of lantana thickets, and dependence on this plant has forced them to search for new habitats. Therefore, life is no longer seething in this place – hummingbirds do not fly, sparkling their plumage, butterflies do not flutter, wasps and bees do not buzz. The thickets of polomiki lantana still look very bad – all the foliage is eaten by caterpillars, and the remains of the leaves they gnawed withered and fell off. However, some changes for the better are already noticeable – like a timid hope for a good future, tiny leaflets covered with pubescence appear on the tips of the shoots. Despite the rampant feast of awakaparu caterpillars, the plants remained alive. The underground part of the shrubs is not damaged, and through the forest litter, enriched with caterpillar droppings, suckers of lantana emerge in various places – the thickets are gradually restoring.
On the forest floor lay a whole layer of awakaparu pupal skins and... a lot of dead adult butterflies. Awakaparu feeds on polomiki lantana both at the larval stage and in the adult stage. Therefore, caterpillars that completed metamorphosis successfully became victims of their own gluttony – turned to adult butterflies, they simply did not find flowers to suck nectar immediately and get from it the energy necessary to find a mate, copulate and produce eggs. Only few of them managed to fly away and survive – they came into the world with a slightly larger supply of nutrients accumulated by the caterpillar, so they were able to move to another part of the forest to find new thickets and lay their eggs there. The other ones, not finding the strength for the nuptial flight, died without giving offspring.
Not only hunger caused the death of awakaparu. Tiny holes are visible in the bodies of some butterflies and in the shells of pupae: parasitoid wasps took advantage of an outbreak in the number of hosts and took their share of the butterfly population.
A very rare situation has arisen: the lantana has temporarily lost both friends and enemies, so now it must fight for life itself, but at the same time its population is not in the best position. Among the stunted lantana bushes, other plants begin to grow. They take advantage of the weakness of lantana bushes and shoot in its thickets, supplanting it actively. The suckers of trees actively breaks through the wood litter, and their young root suckers shade the lantana, preventing it from recovering normally. Seeds of various plants sprout along the edges of the lantana thickets – the rest of the forest continues to live its own life, and other plant species have not been affected by the problems faced by polomiki lantana. Some seedlings die quickly, poisoned by secretions of decaying lantana leaves; others actively cling to life and outspread new leaves. The situation is still not in favor of lantana, and it is possible that in this place thickets of lantana will be gradually replaced by other plants. But it is possible that a series of accidents can tilt the situation in favor of lantana, and it will regain lost ground.
The awakaparu butterfly outbreak ended even faster than it began. Two or three generations of butterflies increased their numbers, bringing this ecological mini-catastrophe closer, and the last generation, having danced at this celebration of life, left offspring almost completely doomed to death. Short-lived insects die quickly, and they do not know the hardships of old age – they literally burn on the altar of life for the sake of future generations of their species. Large and long-lived animals have to face all the hardships of old age – they can live to post-reproductive age, although they rarely die of their own death.
...Over the years, Tisquesusa gradually weakens; age-related changes are more and more clearly manifested in his body. The muzzle of the beast turned gray noticeably. By old age, his molars have become weaker – they grow more slowly, but they still wear out just as quickly, so it becomes worse for him to chew food. To avoid problems with feeding, Tisquesusa moved closer to the jakarawas, on the river banks. Here he spends a lot of time and feeds on soft marsh vegetation. Soft plants are easy to chew, and Tisquesusa almost does not search for food in the forest. Having grown old, he only occasionally visits the thickets of polomiki lantana, but does not eat it in such quantities as before, preferring softer plants. The change in lifestyle is fraught with a certain danger: along with marsh plants, Tisquesusa swallows a number of snails, and along with snails, helminth larvae enter his body. The jacarawas feeding in the same places are almost completely infected with helminths. A small amount of polomiki lantana leaves helps them cleanse themselves of parasites, but not of all, but only of those that have settled in their intestines. Tisquesusa is not afraid of such a danger: due to eating a large amount of polomiki lantana foliage, quite a lot of plant poison is accumulated in its organs and tissues, and even the meat of this beast is almost inedible for predators. Helminth larvae, getting into his body, die soon. Although recently Tisquesusa eats polomiki lantana leaves less often and the content of lantana poison in his tissues is gradually decreasing, it still remains sufficient so that the helminths do not survive in his body.
However, Tisquesusa all the same has his own parasites. The quills growing on the back and sides of myriyutherium protect against a large predator, but make their owner defenseless against small blood-sucking insects and mites. Throughout his life, Tisquesusa suffers the inconvenience caused by them – right after birth, he got his own population of ectoparasites from his mother, and during his life it was constantly replenished and renewed. Midges and mosquitoes crawl in the wool of Tisquesusa; they climb into his nose, eyes and ears, and between the quills in the thickness of the wool ticks creep, which he constantly collects on his body during his wanderings through the undergrowth.
In his youth, Tisquesusa paid little attention to his parasites – he was a healthy growing organism, and his body compensated for the harm caused by parasites. However, now, in old age, he feels their harm more acutely, and tries to get rid of them at least partially. Tisquesusa discovered a very pleasant way to get rid of pesky parasites. Usually, myriyutherians get into water bodies only when necessary – during floods, for example. But now Tisquesusa went into the water of his own free will and gladly lay down on the river bottom, sticking out of the water only part of his head. He raised his quills so that the water soaked his fur to the very skin, and shook himself. Unsuccessfully escaping from the water, small bloodsuckers leave his skin, and they are immediately caught by small fish and shrimps that surrounded his body. Tisquesusa felt that water relieves itching from parasite stings. Soothed by the pleasant sensation of coolness, Tisquesusa dozed off, lying in the water.
The impact of a mighty paw on the skull instantly stunned him; teeth seized his throat and tore the muscles, trachea and blood vessels. Frightened fish rushed away in flocks as Tisquesusa’s body twitched convulsively and froze motionless. A red streak of blood stretched down the current, and several fish busily swam into it, trying to find the source of this tempting smell. A large predator with a spotted skin seized with its teeth and dragged the lifeless body of Tisquesusa to the shore, and the blood of the old myriyutherium flowed onto the sand. Turning the carcass over, the predator tore the skin on its stomach and began the feast. The killer of Tisquesusa was one of the sons of Ajuricaba. After wandering in alien territories, he returned to the domain of his father and lived here for several years. During this time, he has repeatedly tried to attack Tisquesusa, but the old myriyutherium always proved cautious and was ready to rebuff him. But now the son surpassed his father in astuteness and managed to get the coveted prey.
From a branch of a tree, a large bird of prey with a black head and fierce red eyes watches the feast of the son of Ajuricaba. This is the master of heaven in this part of the forest – the adult illapa Saguanmachika. He is only a little younger than the just killed old Tisquesusa, but he is still full of strength. He is about thirty-five years old – it is a fine age for his species. He still owns a huge territory of the selva and continues to live with the same female. They have already bred chicks more than once, and once two descendants, which this pair managed to raise successfully, left their nest at once.
Saguanmachika noticed the large kurekure parrot in the thickets of polomiki lantana, quickly took off, flew at his prey with lightning and instantly killed this bird. He did this so quickly and deftly that the parrot did not even have time to give an alarm, and not a single bird in the forest began to mob the predator. Having returned to the branch with his prey, Saguanmachika began to eat, and the green kurekure feathers swirled in the air. There is still strength, eyes are still keen, and the reaction is lightning fast – Saguanmachika is in the prime of life, and may well expect to live for the same number of years even in the harsh conditions of competition that reign in the South American selva.
The selva was silent for a moment. But in seconds, butterflies fluttered again over the lantana garden, bees buzzed, motley birds sang in every way ...


Lantana-eating porcupine, myriyutherium (Myriyutherium armatus)
Order: Rodents (Rodentia)
Family: New World porcupines (Erethizontidae)

Habitat: forests and forested savannas of Amazonia.
Prehensile-tailed porcupines represent a group of rodents characteristic of the selva of South America. They survived the human epoch and explored various ecological niches actively in the Neocene, giving rise to a number of unusual representatives. One species of this group is myriyutherium, or lantana-eating porcupine, a descendant of the bicolored-spined porcupine (Coendou bicolor). The name is derived from the name of the Brazilian porcupine in the Caribbean language.
The body length of the lantana-eating porcupine is up to 120 cm, and the tail is up to 150 cm. The height of an adult animal at the withers is about 80 cm; weight is over 180 kg. This beast has a squat and strong build, as well as elongated front paws with tenacious claws up to 15 cm long, suitable for digging earth and climbing trees. During walking, the tips of the claws are tucked inward, and the animal rests on the outer edges of the hands, where thick corneous calluses develop. The hind legs are plantigrade. It resembles a bear with a long tail in physique. The neck is thick; the head is rounded with an elongated muzzle, the nose is similar to a pig’s snout and helps to dig food out of the ground. The bones of the skull are thickened: the head is used as a battering ram during intraspecific fights. Myriyutherium has small eyes; its vision is poor, the animal is short-sighted. Long vibrissae grow on the muzzle, and the beast has keen sense of smell.
The sluggish animal has well-developed means of passive protection: on the back, neck, shoulders, hips and sides, as well as on the upper side of the tail, corneous quills up to 50 cm long grow among the wool. The longest quills are on the middle part of the back and on the sacrum. The quills that have finished growing do not hold firmly in the skin and may be pulled out of it easily. Myriyutherium has also an additional means of protection: a “mace” develops at the tip of the tail, formed of enlarged and heavy tail vertebrae. On the skin covering the “mace”, thick strong quills up to 25 cm long grow, directed to the sides.
The main color of the wool of myriyutherium is dark gray, the tips of the paws are white, the claws are black; the quills are white with black tips, and some of them are completely white. On the muzzle of the animal there is an extensive white spot covering the forehead, tip of the muzzle, lips and cheeks. The tip of the muzzle is pink, covered with bare skin. Large orange incisors represent a bright spot in the appearance of the beast. The defending animal stands up on its hind legs and displays its incisors, opening its mouth wide.
Lantana-eating porcupines live in the forests and forested savannahs of the Amazon area, and are active both during the day and at night. Usually this animal is a loner, but sometimes they can gather in small groups, especially in feeding areas. The lantana-eating porcupine looks for food both on the ground and on trees: myriyutherium can climb large trees. It usually does this to escape floods, or to eat fruits and leaves. Also, the lantana-eating porcupine can sleep in trees. The diet is very diverse and consists mainly of vegetation: on the ground, myriyutherium eats roots, tubers, herbs, leaves, berries and mushrooms. On trees, the lantana-eating porcupine eats fruits, leaves, and even whole epiphytic plants. Less commonly, the animal feeds at the river banks, where it eats the diverse aquatic vegetation.
One of the distinguishing features of the physiology of the lantana-eating porcupine is the ability to eat the poisonous bush – polomiki lantana. Often a group of porcupines gathers near the thickets of this plant. During feeding, myriyutherium sits on its hind legs, and bends down the branches of a bush with its front legs and eats them. The rodent also feeds on the ripe fruits of this plant, acting as a seed disperser. The plant’s toxins accumulate in the animal’s tissues, thus rendering it inedible to most predators that can handle the rest of this species’ defenses. Only a few predators that have developed immunity to poison prey on these porcupines.
The mating season is not expressed; males gather near the female ready for mating, being guided by her smell. If two males meet near a female, they arrange a tournament, roaring loudly and waving their tails from side to side. Displaying his strength, the male stands on his hind legs and swings his tail. Male tournaments are usually not accompanied by physical contact; occasionally, a larger male can lightly bite its weaker opponents on the paws, forcing them to leave the female without a fight. If the rivals are approximately equal in strength, the female chooses the male she likes. Then mating occurs, after which the male and female leave each other. Females have permanent territories, and males usually wander through the forest through the territories of several females and do not stay anywhere for a long time.
Pregnancy lasts up to six months; there are 1 to 3 cubs in a litter. They are born well developed, and within a few hours after birth, they are able to follow their mother. The mother constantly communicates with the cubs using sounds, and in case of danger hides them under her body. Cubs feed on milk for 5-6 months, but from the age of one month they begin to switch to adult food, although lantana shoots begin to be eaten only from about six months of age. At the age of two years, young animals leave their mother; puberty occurs at the age of 4 years.
Life expectancy is up to 40-45 years.

This mammal species was discovered by Mamont, the forum member.

Jakarawa, marsh deer agouti (Jakarawa cervoides)
Order: Rodents (Rodentia)
Family: Agoutis (Dasyproctidae)

Habitat: South America, swamps, riverbanks and lake shores with dense reed thickets, often flooded wet savannahs, humid Amazonian jungle.
The Neocene epoch contributed to the outbreak of adaptive radiation of South American caviomorph rodents, giving rise to a huge variety of the most interesting animals, which at the same time, in the course of convergent evolution, often became similar to many extinct animals of the Holocene or Pleistocene. Noteworthy is the evolution of small rodents of the agouti family, which in the Neocene gave rise to very large forms similar to Pleistocene megatheres – groundsloth rodents. The evolution of small rodents into these giants was accompanied by the appearance of a large number of side lineages, some of which died out soon, while others had taken roots in their own ecological niches.
One of the agouti descendants is a herbivore similar to the Holocene South American marsh deer, which was called the jakarawa (jakarawa – “deer”, from the language of the Caribs), or marsh deer agouti. It is difficult to imagine that this small graceful animal is a fairly close relative of the giant groundsloth rodent from the plains of Patagonia.
In its appearance, this beast resembles African chevrotains, but is distinguished by long slender legs. It is a digitigrade animal with three-toed limbs. While walking, jakarawa supports on the terminal phalanges of the fingers and toes, equipped with soft leathery pads – this is an adaptation for walking and running on marshy wetland soil. Claws are thickened and hoof-shaped. Between the digits there are membranes for swimming. The height of the animal at the shoulders is from 90 cm to 1.2 m, the body length in females is up to 1.3 m, weight is up to 35 kg; in males, the length is up to 1.5 meters, and weight is up to 50 kg.
The animal has no horns. The jakarawa’s ears are large, rounded and mobile – the animal has very keen hearing. Although it also has sharp eyesight and sense of smell. The eye sockets are shifted to the top of the skull. The nose of the animal is extended into a mobile proboscis, which allows digging soft silt at the bottom of reservoirs in search of plant rhizomes.
The coat of males during the rut turns a rich reddish-brown color, the rest of the time it is dark brown, in females it is light brown. The legs are dark brown to black in color. The cubs are zebra-like in coloration: brown and red vertical stripes alternate on their sides. In case of danger, the cubs hide among the grass or reeds and freeze. In case of danger, adult animals jump into the water and escape by swimming, and even dive to a depth of 3-4 meters.
Jakarawa inhabits swamps, banks of South American rivers and lake shores with dense thickets of reeds, as well as often flooded wet savannas. Also, this species is found in the Amazonian rainforest.
In its diet, jakarawa differs significantly from the ancestral form – the jaws have become weaker, and the beast no longer eats nuts with a hard shell. The food of this species includes various aquatic plants, as well as water lilies and marsh grasses, but in areas where fruit trees or berry bushes are found, animals are happy to remember the food habits of their ancestors, eating fallen fruits, or even browse bushes, eating leaves along with berries. Thanks to the strong incisors and powerful molars inherited from the agoutian ancestors, jakarawa can even crush the seeds. Jakarawa also feeds on leaves, roots, bark of small trees and shrubs.
Jakarawas are diurnal animals that keep either alone (young males do it more often), or in monogamous pairs, or in small groups of up to 5 animals (as a rule, this is a breeding pair and cubs accompanying them for about a year). The largest males can even afford a harem of two or even three females. In such cases, a small herd is formed around a large male – up to a maximum of 10 individuals.
The mating season is not expressed. In this species, males do not arrange an aggressive fight for the female. Basically, jakarawa males treat each other non-aggressively – the choice of a sexual partner is carried out by the females themselves.
Jakarawa females give birth once a year to two (rarely one or three) well-developed, mobile cubs of a characteristic striped color with eyes opened. Until the age of two months, they feed mainly on milk, but from the first weeks of life they begin to taste the food of adult animals. At the age of six months, young animals completely switch to “adult” food. Having reached the age of one year, young animals leave their parents. Young animals become sexually mature at the age of about 2 years (females even at the age of 18-20 months), and the life expectancy of these animals is up to 15 years. The main enemies of jakarawa are predatory mammals and birds, however, adult animals can be attacked by tyrannocharax .

This mammal species was discovered by Wovoka, the forum member.

Macrokupara (Macrokupara megapotos)
Order: Carnivores (Carnivora)
Family: Raccoons (Procyonidae)

Habitat: selva of Amazonia, disturbed forest areas.
By the Neocene, the bear family completely died out, and the role of heavy-built omnivorous forest-dwelling animals passed to some descendants of small omnivorous animals – most often raccoons and mustelids – that survived during the Holocene-Neocene ecological crisis. In South America, such an animal is macrokupara, which is partly an analogue of the spectacled bear, extinct by the Neocene. This beast lives in the tropical rainforests of northern South America, in the Amazon and Hippolyta river basins. It is a descendant of the kinkajou (Potos flavus), a small tree-climbing raccoon of the forests of South America (hence the name: “kupara” is kinkajou in Caribbean).
Macrokupara is a predominantly terrestrial animal of massive build: body length of 1.5-2 m, height at the withers 80 cm in females and 90 cm in males; weight is from 80kg (females) to 150kg (males) kg. This beast has a rounded head on a short neck, round widely spaced ears and a short muzzle. It has a long prehensile tail – up to 1 meter long. This feature is an atavism to some extent, since the macrocoupara, due to its weight, spends less time on trees than its ancestor, and, moreover, does not climb thin branches.
The wool is short, but thick and velvety; the color of the coat is brown on top, rusty-red on the throat and belly; muzzle is black. The back of the tail is ochre red with a black tail tip. There is no sexual dimorphism in coloration. The animal has long hooked claws that help climb trees and dig in the ground in search of food.
This is a crepuscular and nocturnal animal that spends the day in shelters – usually in the hollows of large trees or the hollow latticed trunks of strangler figs. During sleep, the prehensile tail helps the animal to fix on the branches better. At night, animals actively feed in the undergrowth or climb trees in search of food. Macrokupara feeds on grass shoots, fruits, berries, rhizomes, invertebrates and small vertebrates, bird eggs, and occasionally attacks the young of various large herbivores. The animal can feed on polomiki lantana berries (which are non-toxic, unlike other parts of the plant), spreading the seeds of this plant throughout the forest. Thanks to its velvety wool, which protects against bee stings, macrocoupara can ravage bee nests and eat honeycombs with honey and bee larvae.
Unlike the ancestor, the animal is completely solitary. Each male controls a territory of 150 hectares; his territory intersects with smaller territories of females. Territory boundaries are marked with scent marks and urine.
Macrokupara does not have a pronounced mating season: when the female is ready to mate, she utters loud sounds similar to the sound of a cricket. Also, her urine acquires a special smell, which is felt by males gathering in her territory. Macrokupara males try to avoid each other, but near a female ready for mating, they enter into short but fierce battles, tearing each other’s skin with their claws. So a hierarchy is formed between the beasts, and the winner receives as a reward all the females who have reached puberty, located on his territory. Before copulation, the male stimulates the female by licking her.
Pregnancy lasts 120-130 days; the female gives birth to one, occasionally two cubs. Newborn macrocuparas weigh from 150 to 200 grams, have a length of about 30 centimeters and are covered with sparse silver-gray hair. There is so little hair on the pink belly that it seems to be naked. Cubs are born deaf and blind. Only after five days they acquire the ability to hear sound, and open their eyes after 15-20 days. After about seven weeks, the young animal begins to eat solid food, and after about four months, the female stops feeding the cub with milk. The cub stays with the mother for a long time and becomes completely independent only after being a year old. Males become sexually mature at the age of 3 years, and females – at the 4th year of life. Life expectancy is about 35 years.

This mammal species was discovered by Wovoka, the forum member.

Jaguarete (Leopardus jaguarete)
Order: Carnivores (Carnivora)
Family: Cats (Felidae)

Habitat: South America, forests and forested savannas of Amazonia region.
The ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) managed to survive the era of global ecological crisis due to its high abundance, wide range, small size and varied diet. In addition, deforestation has led to the hybridization of ocelots with the pampas cat (Leopardus colocolo). Hybrid individuals differed from parent species in more flexible behavior, which allowed them to survive in changing conditions. During the stabilization of natural conditions, the descendant of these hybrids populated the newly formed tropical rainforests of South America, where it turned into one of the top predators – jaguarete, an ecological analogue of the jaguar (the name of the animal means “jaguar” in the Guarani language).
The body length of the jaguarete is up to 180-190 cm; the tail is 130 cm long. In its physique, jaguarete resembles something between a leopard and a jaguar – it has rather muscular paws, a strong build, and a short thick neck. The head is slightly elongated, with large ears. On the neck there is a small longitudinal “mane” of elongated black hair, stretching from the base of the skull to the shoulders.
On the inner toe of the front paw there is a very large claw, up to 10 cm long, with the help of which the animal inflicts deep wounds on prey – in this feature it is convergently similar to Asian daggerclawers (Pugionyx). The fangs are elongated; their tips protrude slightly from the closed mouth. The pads on the front paws are keratinized, which allows the animal to keep firmly on the branches and trunks of trees.
The jaguarete has a thick, velvety coat of bright red background coloration with large ring-shaped black spots. Occasionally a pale color morph appears – of fawn color with a gray pattern. On the tail, the spots are replaced by narrow rings; the tip of the tail is black and white. The tips of the paws are light; the pads are pink. The head is is also bright red; there are small white spots under the eyes. The nose is hairless and pink. The ears are black with a red spot on the outer side at the tip of the auricle. The eyes are light green.
Jaguarete inhabits various biotopes – both selva and forested savannas; this predator is not found in open areas. Despite its very large size, this predator is graceful, has a light build and easily walks along the branches of trees. Sometimes it can calmly rest at a height of 30 meters above the ground. The beast can climb large trees, scrambling the trunks and aerial roots of vines, like climbing a ladder. Despite the light physique, the beast is very strong and is able to drag large prey up the tree. During floods, it swims very well. Jaguarete is territorial, marking the boundaries of an individual territory with claw marks on trees and urine. Also, sometimes these animals “talk” at a great distance with the help of a loud roar.
The diet of the jaguarete is very diverse: it eats large crabs and insects, amphibians, fish of various sizes, various mammals and birds; it hunts both in day and night time. It often hunts in rivers, and then it is able to pull ashore a small pikecharacid, green boltergiller, or aquaguana. After the flood, the animal often switches to feeding on fish remaining in temporary ponds, catching it as the reservoir dries up. Protecting its prey from competitors, it often eats it up a tree and returns to it for 2-3 days. Also, jaguarete is the only predator capable of eating adult lantana-eating porcupines: with a paw strike, it turns the rodents back down, and then kills them with a bite and a claw strike. Also, the beast can attack a rodent from an ambush and kill it with claws and teeth. Toxins obtained from food accumulate in the meat of a rodent, however, the predator itself has developed immunity to this poison, and these toxins, along with food, enter its intestines, where they kill the helminths. However, more often jaguarete preys on the cubs of this porcupine, whose meat is less toxic. Sometimes this predator even eats fruits, enriching its diet with vitamins and a certain amount of cellulose.
The breeding season is not expressed. The male finds a female ready for breeding by smell – she actively marks her territory during estrus and calls the males with loud cries. After mating, the cats leave each other. After 3 months, the female gives birth to 2-5 kittens. It is noteworthy that before giving birth, the female moves to the ground and arranges a den in a secluded place. For 6-7 months, kittens are fed on milk, but already in the third month of life they begin to eat meat. At the same time, the cubs begin to leave the nest and explore the world actively, as well as learn to climb trees. The cubs live with their mother for about 3 years, and then they begin an independent life. Sexual maturity occurs at the 5th year of life, life expectancy is 18-20 years.

This mammal species was discovered by Mamont, the forum member.

Forest broad-toothed bat (Latiodon sylvanus)
Order: Bats (Chiroptera)
Family: Common bats (Vespertilionidae)

Habitat: South America, tropical rainforest.
In the Neocene epoch, chiropterans represent one of the largest orders of mammals, yielding only to rodents. Their greatest diversity is concentrated in the tropics, and here there is the most intense competition between them. The consequence of this has been a significant specialization of tropical bats in terms of habitats and preferred types of food, designed to reduce this competition. In the tree crones of the South American rainforest, many species of bats live on a wide variety of food types. One bat species living in this area has switched to feeding on the contents of bird eggs – this is the forest broad-toothed bat.
The most characteristic feature of the appearance of this species is the dental system. The broad-toothed bats have only the middle pair of incisors in each jaw, but they are very wide and strong, a bit reminiscent of rodent teeth. The canines are very small and often do not erupt. There are two pairs of molars in each jaw, and they are tuberculate. These features of the dental system are closely related to the characteristics of the diet of the species: the forest broad-toothed bat feeds exclusively on bird eggs. Having found a nest with suitable eggs, the bat bites off part of the shell with its incisors and licks out the contents of the shell with its tongue, which edges are covered with numerous epithelial villi.
Forest broad-toothed bat is a small bat species: body length is about 12 cm, wingspan is up to 25 cm. Wings are wide, with rounded edges; the flight is maneuverable, the animal is able to make turns in the air and change sharply the direction of movement. These bats fly exclusively in the upper level of the forest among the branches, never descending into the undergrowth.
The wool is gray with a dark stripe running down the spine and some dorsal spots on the sides of it. Such coloration helps the forest broad-toothed bat hide on the branches of trees. The claws on the hind legs and on the wing thumb are well developed. The tail is moderately long, included in the interfemoral membrane.
The ears are short and wide, with blunt tips, able to fold forward. There are no outgrowths on the muzzle. The nostrils are equipped with skin valves and are able to close when the animal licks off the bird egg. The tongue is able to protrude from the mouth to the length of the head.
Feeding on liquid food caused certain changes in the physiology of the animal. The stomach has folded walls and is able to stretch greatly, containing a large amount of liquid food. The walls of the stomach are permeated with blood vessels, and excess water is removed from food first. The kidneys of this species are large, and the bladder is able to greatly stretch. This is due to the peculiarities of digestion: after feeding, the broad-toothed bat stays on a branch in a shelter for some time, and at this time the kidneys quickly “pump out” excess water from food through the blood. Urine accumulates in the bladder, and the animal empties it immediately before takeoff, so as not to betray its presence ahead of time.
Activity peak in this species is predominantly in the morning and afternoon time. Flying through the forest, the forest broad-toothed bat searches for nests of birds by smell and with the help of echolocation. Finding an unguarded nest, the bat lands and sniffs the eggs. If they are recently laid, the bat lands into the nest, quickly bites through the egg and licks its contents. Having filled its stomach, the animal crawls out of the nest and hides for some time among the epiphytes or in cracks in the bark, while its food thickens in the stomach. Before taking off, the bat empties its bladder, thus getting rid of the water swallowed along with food. In one flight, the forest broad-toothed bat is able to drink a volume of 5-6 eggs the size of a quail one. During the day, the animal flies to feed 2-3 times.
Forest broad-toothed bat lives in small colonies, numbering up to 10-15 individuals, hiding under large leaves of palm trees or other broad-leaved plants. Strict food specialization gave rise to another feature of its behavior: the members of the colonies share food with each other, regurgitating it for each other, like vampire bats (Desmodus) of the human era.
Seasonality in reproduction is not expressed. A female gives birth to one cub twice a year. It becomes independent at the age of 3 months, and puberty occurs at the age of 2 years. Life expectancy usually does not exceed 15 years.
In the tropics of South America, a close species is found – wetland broad-toothed bat (Latiodon paludiphilus). This species differs from the forest species in its preferred habitats: it keeps among coastal thickets of marsh plants. In size, this species is similar to the previous one, but has a noticeable olive shade of wool and three longitudinal stripes on the back. This species feeds on the eggs of shorebirds and waterfowl, and, if necessary, can even swim and take off from the water. It forms small colonies (up to 10 individuals) among thickets of large-leaved marsh grasses. Spending the night, these animals hang in a row along the stem or midrib of the leaf.

Lantana mango (Anthracothorax lantanae)
Order: Apodiformes (Apodiformes)
Family: Hummingbirds (Trochilidae)

Habitat: selva of the Amazon basin, swampy forest areas in the immediate vicinity of freshwater reservoirs.
Pollinators often adapted to feeding on only one plant species. So, in Holocene, an African hawk moth Xanthopan morganii, which fed on the plant Angraecum sesquipedale, increased the length of its proboscis. In Neocene, this trend continued with the appearance of right-sided and left-sided crookbill hummingbirds in the jungle of South America. But there lives also their relative, lantana mango.
This descendant of the black-throated mango (Anthracothorax nigricollis) is specialized to feed on Lantana polomiki. Bird feeds in the thickets of lantana, but nests near freshwater reservoirs. Lantana mango is a relatively large species by hummingbird standards. Body length of males is 11 cm, of females – 10 centimeters; the beak length is 3 cm, the tail is about 1.5 cm long. The weight of males is 6-7 g, and females weigh 5.5-7.2 g. Wingspan is 10-12 centimeters. Legs are 0.5-0.7 centimeters long, almost not adapted to walking, black in color, with very small claws. Beak is black, slightly bent down.
The coloration is bright, with expressed sexual dimorphism. Mango female has white sides, male has yellow-green ones with a bronze or ochre tint. The upper part of hummingbird male’s back is dark green; the lower part is velvety black. Whole female’s back is colored blue-green. The plumage on the male’s chest and belly represents the unite wide bluish-black stripe, in the female it is white with a thin longitudinal black stripe running exactly in the middle. Male’s wings have grayish-green coloration from above; there are 6-8 black spots in the lower part of the wings. In the female, the upper side of wings is light turquoise, tips of the longest primary feathers are coal-black; female’s wings are pale red from below. Throat is covered with bronze-colored feathers, and the sides of the head are gray with a small black stripe in the middle, continuing the line of beak and stretching through the eye: these marks are characteristic for both sexes. Forehead and nape of hummingbird male are light green; female is crimson with a blue smear on the crown. Female’s tail is emerald green, a narrow white stripe stretches along its edge; male’s tail is blue with a metallic sheen and a scarlet spot on the tip of each feather. Tail feathers are short and wide, with blunted tips. Young birds are colored like adult females, but the metallic luster of the plumage is dimmer.
Lantana mango feeds mainly on nectar of lantana polomiki, rarely switching to other plant species, and supplementing the diet with small insects, which it picks up along with the nectar. When bird sticks its beak into a flower, a forked lump of pollen connected by a stalk like cherries attaches to it – the bird gets rid of this load only on another flower, pollinating the plant.
Like its ancestors, this bird is able to hover in the air over flowers and easily flies forward with its tail and upside down. Birds are usually sedentary, undertaking only short migrations at the edge of the range, following seasonally flowering plants. Mangoes are very rarely aggressive, especially against other hummingbird species. It is a very numerous species – in the places where the fodder plant grows, the density of their popullation is at least 14 birds per square kilometer.
The male’s vocalization consists of several short calls “tnike-tnika”, usually signaling the territorial claims of the bird.
This hummingbird has many enemies: spiders, birds of prey, mammals and reptiles, sometimes tree-dwelling toads and frogs. Lantana mangoes protect themselves from enemies with the help of a green color that is poorly distinguishable against the background of foliage. When the nest is under attack, hummingbirds attack the enemy themselves, deftly fencing with a sharp beak and aiming at the eyes or nostrils of the aggressor.
Nesting of lantana mangoes continues all year round, a pair is formed for one breeding cycle. Both partners take part in the building of the nest. To do it, they cut off plant fibers (usually seed fluff) and old cobwebs, twist them into a kind of “fabric”, and weave a cup-shaped nest with an outer diameter of 6 centimeters. Hummingbirds can disguise it from the outside with strands of lichens. The nests are attached to thin horizontal branches of trees above the river, at a height of about 2 meters from the water level. The total number of eggs in a clutch varies from two to five. Eggs are round and white, 13-16 mm in diameter. Male and female incubate the clutch alternately; the incubation period is up to 11 days. During hatching, the birds become much more aggressive. All the time while one bird is hatching, the other one feeds it from beak to beak. When the nestlings appear, they stay in the nest for about 2 weeks. They are fed mainly by insects, later pass to a mixture of insects and nectar. When the juveniles leave the nest, the pair breaks up, and the adult birds fatten up, preparing for a new nesting cycle.
Young birds reach sexual maturity by 4 months. The lifespan of this bird is about 3 years.

This bird species was discovered by Feldwebel, the forum member.

Kurekure (Amazona kurekure)
Order: Parrots (Psittaciformes)
Family: Holotropical parrots (Psittacidae)

Habitat: South America, Amazon jungle.
In Neocene, Amazonian selva is inhabited by various birds. A characteristic group of tropical forest birds are parrots and parakeets. These are mainly descendants of long-tailed parakeets; other groups of these birds are represented by only a few species. In particular, the large Amazona parrots common in human epoch have almost disappeared: their descendants are represented by few species, descendants of the blue-fronted amazon (Amazona aestiva). One of them is kurekure (the name means the orange-winged amazon in the Caribbean language).
Kurekure is a small bird, close in size to its ancestor: body length is about 40 cm, wingspan is 70 cm. It is similar in proportion to other amazons – it has a rather strong physique, a relatively short fan-shaped tail, and a rounded head. The wings are rounded, which allows maneuvering in the forest canopy among the branches. Paws are tenacious, relatively large, with large claws. The beak is relatively large, black in color, with a massive lower jaw, capable of crushing hard seeds and nuts. The color of the plumage is bright: the background color of the plumage is green, the undertail is light yellow, the legs are gray-lilac. The back is purple, with a wide red transverse stripe on the lower back – this coloration feature is visible during the flight of the bird. Flight feathers are yellow, with small purple specks along the vane in adult birds. Forehead is bright blue; there are blue rings of bare skin around the eyes. Under the beak there is a patch of bare white skin. Sexual dimorphism is almost not expressed: the male differs only in a slightly more massive beak and wider rings of skin around the eyes.
Kurekures are very noisy flocking social birds. They live in flocks of several dozen individuals and constantly communicate with the help of characteristic hoarse crackling calls. Birds are active during the day; at night they sleep in the tree crowns, perching on branches in rows and nestling against each other. For the night, they choose branches in the thick of the crown, where they are protected from the attack of owls.
Flocks of these birds constantly roam the selva, so as not to eat all the food on their territory. The diet consists mainly of soft fruits and nuts, which are complemented by leaves and flowers; these parrots occasionally eat insects. By eating the fruit, kurekure helps spread various tropical plants, including polomiki lantana. For the sake of the fruits of this plant, parrots descend from the crowns into the undergrowth, but they are constantly on their guard there. The enemies of kurekures are snakes, birds of prey and carnivores. Noticing the enemy, the birds raise a loud cry, giving out the location of the predator – the voice of kurekure is one of the danger signals in the selva. Other birds often join the mobbing the enemy.
The breeding season is not expressed. The couple is formed for life, the bird is looking for a new mate only after the death of the previous one. Birds arrange a nest in a hollow, the female lays up to 4 eggs on a litter of wood chips and rot. For about a month, the female incubates the clutch while the male feeds her with fruits and occasionally replaces her on the nest. Both parents feed the chicks for 9-10 weeks. In juvenile plumage, the forehead is green, and the flight feathers are yellow or greenish and lack any patterns or spots. Sexual maturity occurs at the age of 4 years, life expectancy is up to 40 years, some birds live up to half a century.

This bird species was discovered by Mamont, the forum member

Illapa (Horraccipiter illapa)
Order: Hawk birds (Accipitriformes)
Family: Hawks (Accipitridae)

Habitat: South America, tropical rainforests in the equatorial climate zone.
A large-scale ecological crisis caused by human activity and changes in nature led to mass extinction at the boundary of the Holocene and Neocene. Among carnivorous birds, a significant number of large species died out at this time. At the same time, small species survived and spread, which began to develop ecological niches of large-sized feathered predators in the process of stabilizing of natural conditions and increasing of biological diversity. In South America, one of the successful species was the sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus). Despite the destruction of habitats by people and all the crises of the early Neocene, part of the population of this widespread species survived and evolved. The South American illapa is the largest of the descendants of the striped hawk (its name is the name of the Inca god of thunder); it inhabits the Amazonian jungle and mountain forests of the continent.
Illapa is a very large solitary feathered predator: the body length of an adult is 80-100 cm; the wingspan is up to 220 cm. The female weighs from 5 to 8 kg, the male from 4 to 6 kg. Relatively short and wide wings and a long tail allow the bird to maneuver easily when flying in a dense forest. Illapa feeds on arboreal and medium-sized terrestrial mammals, birds, reptiles and even other birds of prey. The predator most often ambushes prey in the crown of a tree, choosing thickets of epiphytic plants and lianas with wide leaves that allow even such a large bird to hide. Due to its large size, each adult bird of this species controls an extensive feeding area – up to 100 square kilometers. Outside of the breeding season, each bird actively drives its relatives from its territory. Nesting birds sometimes hunt in pairs and eat prey together. Illapa is one of the most dangerous feathered predators of the canopy of tropical rainforest, capable of killing prey weighing up to 10 kilograms. The inner toe of this species carries a claw up to 10 centimeters long in an arc. With such claws, the bird is able to stab even a sidespiny porcupine – an arboreal rodent.
This bird has a rather dim color: the background color of the plumage is light brown with a gray spotted pattern on the back and wings (there are rounded dark spots on the tips of some feathers). The head is black; the eyes are ruby red with a round black pupil. The beak is gray, with a pointed curved tip. The plumage on the belly is gray – the feathers are covered with many thin cross stripes, merging to an almost uniform gray background when viewed from afar. The male has a dull yellowish spot on the throat. The pattern on the primary feathers is also striated – thin brown stripes on a sandy-beige background. There is also a cross-striped pattern on the tail feathers, but more raw – non-numerous wide stripes. In young birds, the striped plumage on the belly is more pronounced, and the head has a dark gray color.
Illapas are strictly monogamous birds, they stay with their partner for their whole lives. Outside of nesting, birds stay in their usually adjacent territories. This species nests in crowns of tall trees at a height of 30-45 m. Nesting usually lasts from November to July, but some pairs begin to nest earlier or later – this is most often done by birds whose clutch or brood has perished. Nesting and feeding the offspring takes a lot of effort, so the illapas nest once in two years. At this time, both birds of the pair demonstrate their skills to each other by displaying various aerial stunts. One of the favorite games of birds is catching a torn leaf in flight: one of the birds takes off, holding a leaf in its beak, and throws it, and the second one tries to catch it at this time.
There are 1-3 (most often 2) dirty-white eggs in the clutch. Incubation lasts 40-45 days; this is done exclusively by the female. Most often, one chick survives at the breeding pair, less often two. Successful rearing of three chicks is an exceptional rarity. At 11 weeks, the white juvenile down of the chick is gradually replaced by feathers, from 15-16 weeks the chick already takes wing. Up to the age of 8-10 months, young birds master hunting with their parents, at the age of 18 months they pass to an independent life themselves or are aggressively expelled by their parents from their territory. Sexual maturity occurs at the age of 4 years, life expectancy reaches 60 years.

This bird species was discovered by Nick, the forum member.

Mboi-tata (Batrachoboa rex)
Order: Caecilians (Gymnophiona)
Family: Siphonopidae (Siphonopidae)

Habitat: tropical forests of South America, forest floor in selva.
Caecilians represent a characteristic group of the tropic areas of South America, Africa and Asia. In the epoch of the global ecological crisis, they preserved a rather high biological diversity, and in the Neocene their diversity is also quite large. Many species of caecilians resemble species that existed in human epoch, but unusual, deviant forms have appeared among them. The largest species of limbless amphibians lives in the South American selva – it is mboi-tata, a descendant of the ringed caecilian (Siphonops annulatus).
The body length of the mboi-tata is up to 4-4.5 m (the animal grows till its whole life); hence the name – it is one of the names of the snake-like Brazilian cryptid minhocão. The body is cylindrical, 25-30 cm in diameter. Outwardly, the mboi-tata is similar to other caecilians – it has an elongated legless and tailless body, a large flat head 40 cm long with a wide mouth and small eyes, barely visible from under the skin. Also on the head there are two tentacles 20 cm long, needed for skin breathing and chemoreception. On the skin of a dark, blue-violet color, there are blue transverse “rings”; the upper part of the head is brown. The sexual dimorphism is not expressed.
Mboi-tata inhabits the undergrowth of the Amazonian forests, often at a considerable distance from the water. The animal leads a sedentary lifestyle, burrowing into the mud and forest litter. In this position, the mboi-tata can wait for prey for many days in succession, but sometimes a huge amphibian still crawls to another place, and this action looks rather unusual. Mboi-tata’s lungs are small, respiration takes place mainly through the skin. But with a sedentary lifestyle of this amphibian, the oxygen obtained in this way is quite enough for life. Mboi-tata sometimes swims in the water (in small shallow streams), but most often it leads an aquatic lifestyle during floods. Its diet includes large insects and spiders, and adult animals eat ground-dwelling amphibians, reptiles, small birds and mammals. During the hunt, the mboi-tata acts like a “live trap”, lying in wait for prey and grabbing it when it appears right in front of its muzzle. The animal detects the presence of prey by shaking of the soil and smell. The saliva of the amphibian has paralyzing properties – the animal escaped from its mouth is immobilized for several minutes, and the amphibian finds it by smell. An adult mboi-tata has no enemies.
Breeding occurs during the rainy season. The male and the female find each other by smell, the male fertilizes the female, after which he leaves her. Some days later, the female digs a burrow at the shore of the reservoir. This burrow is vertical, ending with a nest chamber expanded like a jug up to one and a half meters deep. In the nest chamber, the female lays 20 eggs and wraps around them her lower body, providing them with moisture. At this time, the female hunts, protruding the front part of the body and head to the surface. She keeps the nest clean by exposing the back of her body to defecate from the nest and “shooting” her droppings away from the nest, most often before or during the rain.
The juveniles hatch in the second week of incubation and live with their mother for the first time. Their food is the upper layer of the integument of their mother’s body, which is formed at this time. Having reached a length of half a meter, young amphibians creep away, digging their own tunnels from the nesting chamber to the ground surface. Sexual maturity occurs in the third year of life; life expectancy is up to 80 years.

This amphibian species was discovered by Mamont, the forum member.

Farmer wasp, or tapiyukan (Parachartergus agricola)
Order: Hymenopterans (Hymenoptera)
Family: Vespid wasps (Vespidae)

Habitat: Amazonian selva and to the south in forested savannas.
The main group of insects engaged in a kind of “cattle farming” is ant family, that have formed a symbiotic relationship with a number of insect species: ants provide them with protection for their nutritious secretions. However, this union is far from being an exceptional phenomenon in the world of insects: already in the Holocene, the wasp Parachartergus apicalis was known, which take care actively for Aconophora compressa treehoppers for their sweet honeydew. By the Neocene their trophobiotic relations have been preserved: farmer wasps take care of other treehopper species, “horned” pokopoko insects, feeding on the poisonous sap of the polomiki lantana bush. The second name of the wasp is “tapiyukan” which means “wasp” in the Caribbean language. Wasps protect treehopper nymphs from predators and parasites in exchange for their sweet honeydew. Each wasp in the colony takes care to a small group of nymphs, which it tries not to leave even for a minute. During the day, it can leave its herd only a couple of times and no more than for 5 minutes. At night, when the wasps do not leave their nest, tarukuwa ants, also known as cattleraider ants, take care of the same nymphs. In the mornings, battles between ants and wasps for a herd of treehoppers sometimes take place, and wasps often win the combat.
It is notable, that by the Neocene wasps became not only cattle breeders, but also gardeners. They actively guard the “gardens” of polomiki lantana and weed out with their mandibles any weed seedlings that interfere with the growth of lantana.
Tapiyucan wasp colonies can be found on tree trunks and large branches. Each colony has several queens. But in the tapiyucan families there is no polygyny, but there is oligogyny, i.e. several queens live in the nest, who “do not tolerate” each other and occupy separate territories inside the colony. Workers and queens cannot be visually identified: they can only be distinguished by the presence of mature eggs in their ovaries. Males are also similar to females, and can only be identified by the structure of the genitals and the absence of a sting.
This wasp is of small size: a typical tapiyucan forager has a length of about 11 mm, a width of the thoracal region of 3 mm and weighs about 0.05 g. Foragers perform three main duties: they feed their offspring with chewed insects, feed other adults with nectar and honeydew, and carry water to the nest. With the help of water, insects bring building materials to a condition suitable for use.
Fertile females do not differ morphologically from working individuals and are therefore similar in size. The abdomen is spindle-shaped with short hairs that can only be seen under a microscope. The eyes of the wasp are large, with a great number of facets. The body is black, only the edges of the wings are red.
Communication between insects in a colony is performed by touching antennae and mandibles. They can also share food with each other; a request for feeding is a slight biting of the mandibles of another individual. Queens rarely take part in interactions with workers, except for demand for food, and do not regulate the behavior of worker wasps.
Tapiyucan wasps feed their offspring mainly on insects, especially on lepidopteran caterpillars. They use venom to paralyze their prey before tearing it apart. The larvae eat exclusively meat food; wasps willingly search for carrion and the remains of the prey of predatory animals. Adult insects are omnivores and eat sugary substances: they drink plant nectar and honeydew, eat fruit pulp of varying degrees of freshness.
Swarming in wasps occurs from April to May. Usually, the young queen, having completed the metamorphosis, tries to leave the nest immediately and returns to it only at night, when the queens of the colony are less aggressive. During the day, she makes a courtship flight and mates with one or more males. After fertilization, she secretes a substance that unites several hundred workers around her and stimulates them to look for a new place to establish a colony. When the colony moves to a new location, the workers and the queen follow a chemical route laid out by the scouts that leads them to the place of new life. Once the mini-colony arrives at the new location, the workers start building the nest and the queen will soon start laying eggs that the workers take care of. The nests of these wasps are built of paper pulp impregnated with plant wax, and camouflaged to match the color of the surrounding vegetation. The colony, unlike the ancestral one, can grow up to 100 thousand individuals and last up to seven years.

This insect species was discovered by Wovoka, the forum member.

Tarukuwa, or cattleraider ant (Camponotus tarukuwa)
Order: Hymenoptera (Hymenoptera)
Family: Ants (Formicidae)

Habitat: Amazonian selva and south in forest avannas.

Picture by Biolog

This relatively large species of ant is a descendant of the Florida carpenter ant Camponotus atriceps (hence the name: tarukuwa, Camponotus ant in Caribbean). In human epoch, the ancestral species was widspread in the Americas; it lived in the pine and oak forests of North America, in the humid savannahs of North and South America, in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America, and also in the humid mountain forests of Central and South America.
By the Neocene, tarukuva – its descendant – lives mainly in the Amazonian selva and to the south of it, in forested savannas. Depending on the type of habitat, the way of life of various populations of this ant varies significantly: in the forest, these ants traditionally live in trees, and in forested savannas they often build large clay anthills surrounding the trunk of a tree.
Tarukuwa are large ants of an unusual and easily recognizable color: the head is black, the thorax is dark brown, and the abdomen is bright red; the legs and antennae are yellowish-brown. The mandibles are triangular in shape; the eyes are large. The maxillary palps consist of 6 segments, while the labial ones number 4 ones only. The stalk between the thorax and abdomen consists of one segment (petiolus) bearing a vertically directed scale. The waist is thin. The upper side of the thorax is arched. This species lacks sting. Eggs are of creamy color and oval-shaped; larvae are legless and worm-like. The pupae have the appearance of a hard silky-brown cocoon.
Endosymbiotic bacteria Blochmannia (Enterobacteriaceae), which perform trophic biosynthetic functions, live in bacteriocyte cells of the ant midgut epithelium. Ants feed mainly on gum of trees, and bacteria allow them to assimilate the nutrients of even such specific food in full degree. Also, these ants willingly harvest honeydew in colonies of sap-sucking insects, mainly mealybugs. Hence the second name of the tarukuwa ants (cattleraider ants): at night, they harvest honeydew in the colonies of the Amazonian pokopoko treehoppers, which belong to the tapiyucan wasps and are guarded by them during the day. At night, the ants take care of the pokopoko colonies, attacking predators and cleaning insects from dirt, receiving honeydew from them along the way.
The structure of the colony of this species includes several castes:
“Queen” – a reproductive female that loses its wings after fertilization. Its only function is to lay eggs and receive food from the workers. The existence of the colony depends on its well-being. In large colonies, there are often several “queens” of various ages, actually replacing one another in turn;
“Princesses”: fertile winged females not yet fertilized. After the mating flight, they found their own colonies or return to the nest and eventually replace the main female;
“Princes”: fertile winged males, which are much smaller than females and exist in the nest not for long. Their only function is the fertilization of winged females during the mating flight, after which they die outside the nest;
Soldiers: sterile females responsible for protecting the colony, 1.5 cm in size. They are distinguished by large heads with elongated mandibles;
Workers: sterile females up to 1 cm in size, born in a colony, represent the largest number of individuals in each colony. Workers also form several size classes.
Young fertile males and females go on a mating flight, choosing a clear windless day for it. The flight occurs synchronously over a large area, from many ant nests at once, including those very far from each other. During the mating flight, mating takes place, after which the females have the opportunity to choose a place for a new nest and start an independent life, or return to their native colony as one of the “queens”. Males die shortly after mating in the open. Females that have been fertilized for life lose their wings and search for a place for their new nests.
After the construction of the first shelter, the female lays her first eggs, from which the first workers of the colony – very small ones – will appear. These first workers leave the nest for the first time and search for food to feed themselves, the queen, and new larvae. Workers regurgitate the food and pass it on to other ants, which spread it further. They are also engaged in digging of the first galleries of the nest and serve the youth of the second generation. From now on, the queen will only take care of laying eggs, and it will be its main function for the rest of its life. The workers of the new generation are, on average, larger than the first ones. Although polymorphism in size is very pronounced in this genus, the size of workers and the number of individuals in a colony are usually indicative of the amount of food. A few years later, the colony produces its first winged males and females, which give rise to the next generation of colonies.
Tarukuwa ants usually make their nest in soft wood, boring more and more galleries as the colony grows. Outside the Amazon selva, in the south, in forested savannas, these ants build huge “takuru” – giant clay anthills, similar to termite mounds, up to 2 m in height, surrounding the trunk of the tree, originally inhabited by ants. The colony can exist up to 20 years.

This insect species was discovered by Wovoka, the forum member.

Pokopoko, or Amazonian treehopper (Aconophora amazonica)
Order: True bugs (Hemiptera)
Family: Thorn bugs (Membracidae)

Habitat: Amazonian selva and to the south in forest savannas.
Polomiki lantana is a plant species that has gained advantages in the struggle for existence through direct and indirect relationships with several animal species. One of them is the tapiyucan wasp, which destroys vegetation that competes with this species. The mediator between the lantana and the wasp is the Amazonian treehopper, or pokopoko (“pokopoko” means “cicada” in the Caribbean language), a descendant of the treehopper Aconophora compressa, common in human epoch from Mexico to Colombia. The host plant of the Amazonian treehopper is the polomiki lantana shrub, although this species can also feed on other plants of Verbenaceae family. This insect is absolutely tolerant to the toxicity of this plant.
This insect is radically different from its ancestor, which was a brown and striped nondescript insect with a small horn. Pokopoko is an insect with a blue-green metallic sheen, up to 8 millimeters long, with a bizarre body shape. Three horns rise on the prothorax of this insect: lateral ones are 3 mm long, middle horn is 5 mm long; on top of the middle horn there are three spherical outgrowths, each one is 1 mm in diameter. Thus, the pokopoko vaguely resembles the Brazilian treehopper (Bocydium globulare). The rear pair of wings is bright red with black veins. The rear pair of legs is adapted for jumping.
This insect feeds exclusively on plant sap and produces large amounts of sweet honeydew, which is the reason for a permanent war between tapiyucan wasps and tarukuwa ants. The Amazonian treehopper lives in large colonies, sucking sap from the stems of Verbenaceae plants, mainly of polomiki lantana. Insects keep on the top of the shoots, in the zone of active growth. Due to the large number of insects that suck out the plant sap, the leaves on the affected shoot become smaller and underdeveloped, and the flowers fall off without blooming.
Reproduction takes place all year round. Males call females with a long monotonous song, reminiscent of the sound of a stretched string. Females are guided not only by the song, but also by decorations: the larger the horns and outgrowths of the male, the more attractive it is to the female. Pokopoko female lays its eggs on the stems of plants, placing them in the thickness of plant tissue with the help of an ovipositor, and covers the place of the clutch with its body. The total fecundity is up to 300-350 eggs, which the female lays in portions of 20-30 eggs.
After the hatching of the larvae, they are guarded by symbiont insects: wasps during the day and ants at night. The ants carefully spread young insects to nearby shoots to avoid crowding and reduce competition for food. Nymphs go through five molts and reach maturity at the age of about 45 days, and in the adult stage, the pokopoko lives up to 60-70 days.

This insect species was discovered by Wovoka, the forum member.

Lantana hairstreak, or Awakaparu (Symbiolycaena lantanae)
Order: Lepidoptera (Lepidoptera)
Family: Gossamer-winged butterflies (Lycaenidae)

Habitat: Amazonian selva and to the south in forested savannas, the area coincides with the area of the host plant.

Picture by Biolog

In tropical climates favorable for year-round activity of insects, competition between their various species can be especially fierce. One of the ways to avoid it is to develop a specific ecological niche. This path of evolution is demonstrated by the South American awakaparu butterfly (“awakaparu” is “butterfly” in the Caribbean language), a descendant of the Strymon bazochii hairstreak, common in the Holocene from Texas to Paraguay. In Neocene awakaparu lives in the Amazonian selva and to the south in forested savannas. Awakaparu is a stenophagous butterfly, completely dependent on the well-being of the local polomiki lantana, a poisonous shrub. The caterpillars feed on the foliage of the bush, and the adult butterflies feed on lantana nectar, pollinating this plant also. As a result, the insect accumulates a significant amount of poison at the larval stage and becomes inedible for vertebrates. In places where this shrub grows, the butterfly is relatively common.
The wingspan is 25 mm in females and 30 mm in males; sexual dimorphism is expressed in the coloration of the wings. The underside of the wings is ash-colored, in males there is an oculate pattern on the back wings. In males, the front wings are blue-black above, and the hind wings are dark purple with a metallic sheen and three red "eyes", each hind wing has a tail. The upper side of the front wings of females is dark brown, without shine. Their hindwings are dark blue with a faint sheen and have one ocellus at the base of the wing. The body in both males and females is fluffy, turquoise in color with intense shine.
Eggs are laid by females in the morning one at a time at the base of lantana flowers. Each female is able to lay about 200 eggs in its life. The egg is white and spherical. The development cycle takes 31 days: 5 days for egg incubation, 15 days for caterpillar stage, and 10 days for pupal stage. The enemies of this species are parasitoid wasps, which larvae eat away the muscles and connective tissues of the caterpillar, avoiding fat that accumulates toxic substances.

This insect species was discovered by Wovoka, the forum member.

Itotoptera (Itotoptera carnopapilio)
Order: Lepidoptera (Lepidoptera)
Family: Gossamer-winged butterflies (Lycaenidae)

Habitat: South America, Amazonian selva.
Most butterflies in the Holocene in adulthood were nectarophages. Aphagous (non-eating) ones and bloodsuckers were also known. In Neocene this trend continued; however, one exception appeared here: Itotoptera from the Amazonian selva, a descendant of one of the hairstreak species, turned to a predator.
Itotoptera is a large butterfly of the hairstreak family: the body length of the imago is 7 cm, and the wingspan is about 12 cm. The insect has a rather slender physique – its abdomen is elongated, and thorax and head are small. The second and third pairs of legs are walking ones, like those of other butterflies; the front pair is slightly larger and has a serrated edge, vaguely resembling the raptorial legs of a praying mantis. On the head, there are large eyes, like dragonfly’s ones, composed of numerous facets. Antennae are small and club-shaped. The proboscis is long – up to 8 cm. At its base there are powerful pointed stylets formed from the maxillary palps, cutting through the covers of the prey, usually between the segments.
The forewings are rounded; the hindwings have “tails” not exceeding half the length of the hindwing. The coloration is multicolored with a metallic sheen. The front wings are red with small yellow spots along the outer edge and a black ring-like spot in the middle. Background coloring at different angles gives a reflection from lilac to purple and red shade. The hind wings are purple with thin light green stripes along the large veins, black along the edge. The tips of the tails are blue with an expressed metallic sheen, clearly visible in flight. The underside of the wings has a cryptic pattern – it is of various shades of brown with darker nerves and a light straw-colored edge. The body is light gray, the legs are black, and the thorax is brownish.
Caterpillar is up to 5 cm long, of flattened shape with a wide body. On the first thoracal segment and on the last abdominal segment, there are conical spikes – one in front, and two from behind. The caterpillar also has elongated thoracic pairs of legs and strong abdominal legs. In the head anatomy, very large, heavily chitinized mandibles are noteworthy. The background coloration of the caterpillar is green with yellow strokes – a pair on the sides of each segment. The head is also yellow, the mandibles are bright pink.
The breeding season is not expressed, at any time of the year you can find various stages of development of this species. The female lays a clutch of eggs on the leaves of plants in the undergrowth. Itotoptera caterpillars are omnivorous: they eat the leaves of the plant on which they live and along with them consume various small insects, especially inactive ones (aphids, mealybugs, other caterpillars). Older caterpillars become active predators and eat almost exclusively invertebrates. With such a diet, the caterpillar accumulates the required amount of nutrients within a month, and after 4-5 weeks it pupates, attaching itself to a branch with a cobweb belt. At the same time, the chrysalis secretes a small amount of a liquid that intoxicates the ants – with its secretions, the chrysalis “zombifies” several ants, forcing them to guard it. A month later, the imago hatches from the pupa.
Itotoptera is a predator; hence the name, derived from the Caribbean word for “enemy”. It hunts insects in all levels of the forest. At the same time, it is not specialized and is able to eat a wide variety of insects, which it seeks with the help of sight and smell. So, it can find sedentary insects or eggs and suck them out without much effort. The butterfly can also catch insects in flight. The butterfly avoids attacking wasps armed with a sting and beetles with hard body covers. Itotoptera often accompanies large animals (mammals, birds, reptiles) and catches blood-sucking insects that annoy them. It is noteworthy that sometimes these butterflies hunt ants, wasps, treehoppers and caterpillars in the thickets of polomiki lantana. The butterfly grabs its prey with its forelimbs, lands on a solid support, pierces the covers of the prey with stylets and sucks out the insect’s fluids. There are lots of poisonous insects in the diet of itotoptera, the poisons of which the butterfly accumulates in the body, becoming inedible for predators. The life span of adults is up to 5 months.

This insect species was discovered by Mamont, the forum member.


Polomiki lantana (Polomiki lantana)
Order: Lamiales (Lamiales)
Family: Vervain family (Verbenaceae)

Habitat: Amazonian selva and woodlands on the border of savannas.
Common lantana (Lantana camara) was a woody perennial shrub of the human era. In the Holocene, the plant was widespread from Mexico to Colombia and Venezuela, as well as in the Greater Antilles and the Bahamas. It has also been introduced to many other tropical and subtropical regions of the planet: Africa, South and Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. In most new habitats, the plant has turned to a dangerous invasive species due to its unpretentiousness: it is able to live in both wet and dry habitats. By the Neocene its descendant – polomiki lantana (“Polomiki” – flower in Caribbean language) – settled widely throughout the Amazon region, largely due to the help of the tapiyukan wasps. Polomiki lantana is characterized by active growth, because it intensively absorbs available soil nitrogen in ecosystems with low nitrogen content. The species is hardy and adapted to a wide range of environmental conditions, is able to withstand drought and waterlogging of the soil, is extremely resistant to trampling and even fire. This plant actively maintains its position in the ecosystem because it is toxic to most herbivores, allelopathic to neighboring plants (produces toxic chemicals that inhibit competing plant species), and has an extremely high fecundity (12,000 seeds from each plant per year). The fruits of polomiki lantana are eaten by a wide variety of birds and animals spreading its seeds, due to which the plant has an extensive range and a high rate of gene exchange in the population. This plant is pollinated by butterflies, bees, bumblebees and hummingbirds. Polomiki is an evergreen shrub 1-2 m high with erect branched stems, capable of forming extensive dense thickets. Besides, in Neocene it entered into symbiosis with tapiyukan wasps, which help the bush to fight with competitors by weeding out all other plants, that try to grow in it’s growth zone. Thanks to the care of wasps and unlike its ancestral form, the plant is able to grow even in the selva, and not only on the edges of the forest.
The leaves are stiff, gray-green, up to 5 cm long, contain essential oils and therefore have a strong odor when crushed. They are opposite, ovoid, with a pointed tip, serrate margins, and fine hairs along the veins. Young leaves are more pubescent, which makes the tips of the shoots of the shrub look grayish. To get rid of parasites, large mammals often wallow in thickets of polomiki lantana, impregnating their wool with odorous substances. This provides them with protection from blood-sucking insects for a while.
The flowers are small, but numerous, four-petalled, gathered in corymbose inflorescences on long peduncles. They can be white, yellow, red, pink, orange, purple and of other colors. Their color varies depending on the location of the inflorescences, age and degree of maturation. The newly opened flower has a caramel smell with a pungent undertone. After pollination, the color of the flowers changes from white and yellow to orange, pinkish or reddish, darkening with time. This is a signal for pollinators – a young flower contains more nectar, and when it fades, the amount of nectar in it decreases sharply – which increases the efficiency of pollination.
The fruit of the polomiki is a berry-like drupe with two seeds, which changes color from green to dark purple when ripe. Green unripe fruits are inedible for animals. Due to the hard spines on their skin, swallowing them can cause serious damage to the digestive tract. Ripe fruits are readily eaten by birds and other animals, which can spread the seeds over long distances, contributing to the spread of polomiki. Reproduction also occurs vegetatively – broken off branches take roots easily.
The plant is dangerous to most herbivores. It contains active substances that are toxic to ungulate mammals – pentacyclic triterpenoids, which lead to liver damage and photosensitivity. The only animal that can safely feed on lantana – flowers, leaves and stems – is the lantana-eating porcupine, or myriyutherium. The only animals that feed en masse on polomiki are Pokopokos or Amazonian treehoppers. These treehoppers are pastured by tapiyukan wasps during the day and by tarukuwa ants at night. Awakaparu caterpillars, a valuable source of protein for many predatory animals, also graze on this plant.

This plant species was discovered by Wovoka, the forum member.

Lantana false fruit fungus (Pseudocarpomyces lantana)
Order: Hymenochaetales
Family: Hymenochaetaceae

Habitat: Amazonian selva, on lantana trunks.

Picture by Biolog

Many fungi parasitized on trees and shrubs of the human era: tinder fungi, rust fungi, and others. They relied mainly on wind and insects to spread their spores. But in Neocene one of their descendants in the Amazonian selva entered into symbiosis with the descendants of local porcupines.
Lantana false fruit fungus is a descendant of the genus Phylloporia, which has become a specialized parasite of polomiki lantana. On shrub trunks, it forms fruiting bodies mimicking lantana fruits: on a small stalk, of the same size as lantana berries, and a similar almost purple color with spines on the surface. The fruit body is closed; inside the cavity there is a folded hymenium, which forms basidiospores. The fungus has phragmobasidia – basidiospores with a very thick, dense shell of chitin with calcium deposits.
The fruiting bodies are so similar to drupes of lantana that feeding myriyutheres take them for fruits and eat them. The gastric juice of myriyutherium softens the shells of the spores, dissolving calcium, but not killing the spores themselves. Being expelled with the droppings, spores germinate into mycelium with conidiophores (anamorphic stage of the fungus); each of them carries an umbel of long sterigmata, from the ends of which asexual spores – conidia – separate. Conidia are carried by wind and insects to lantana trunks, where they germinate, and the mycelium penetrates into the trunk. In a few weeks, new fruiting bodies of the fungus will appear on the trunk.
The spores of the fungus, closed inside the fruiting body, cannot be spread by wind and insects, and are not capable of germination without passing through the gastrointestinal tract of Myriyutherium. Such a symbiosis with a mammal allowed the false fruit fungus to occupy a unique niche: it is found only on lantana bushes.
The fruiting bodies emit an odor similar to that of lantana fruits and attracting myriyutheres. Sometimes the insects attracted by it destroy the fruiting bodies, but the spores, that fall out in this case, do not germinate.

This fungus species was discovered by Biolog, the forum member.


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